Not ‘just’ an Airman

by Col. Margaret Walsh
86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron commander

I dislike to hear the phase “I am just an Airman.” In fact “just” is not an appropriate adjective for any individual associated with the armed services, either civilian or military. It presents a perception of an inability, sense of helplessness or powerlessness.

Nothing could be further from the truth for the Airmen or personnel serving today. Our military personnel are smart and battle proven to effectively work as a team to meet objectives. In the case of the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, my Airmen save lives.

The U.S. Aeromedical Evacuation system is unmatched in its ability to safely move both a large number and high acuity of patients.

Primarily a wartime capability, the vast majority of resources reside in the Reserve and National Guard components.

There are only four active-duty aeromedical evacuation squadrons, including one stationed here on Ramstein.

The Airmen of the 86th AES performed 129 U.S. Air Forces in Europe missions caring for 169 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, their dependents as well as coalition partners in 2011.

In addition to USAFE coverage, we flew 52 missions returning 1,111 wounded warriors, sick and injured, back to the states while deploying 66 personnel for forward operations. Key to our success is that every Airman is a leader and not “just” an Airman.

All medical personnel work hard to heal, prevent complications and save lives. However, we work beyond medical facilities in remote and challenging environments.

The squadron is composed primarily of nurses, medical technicians and administrative personnel specially trained to support and care for the injured, sick and wounded in flight.

The basic crew complement is composed of two flight nurses and three aeromedical evacuation technicians that can be augmented to meet mission requirements.

All aeromedical evacuation nurses and medical technicians are multi-aircraft qualified for the leadership crew position: medical crew director and charge medical technician, respectively. Personnel assume all crew positions, including the lead crew position, independent of rank.

Each crew member has specific roles and responsibilities and is essential for the safe care of all patients onboard.

Such a patient care focus aligned with a common operating platform aid to identify variance in order to mitigate the stresses of flight, perform care interventions or act to prevent a safety incident. Each individual on the team is critical for success and no one is “just” along for the ride. 

What separates “just” an Airman from a leader Airman?

Answer: Knowing your job and living the core values.

Job knowledge, training and professional development are the foundation for crew members to execute their responsibilities.

For aeromedical evacuation, the job knowledge extends beyond the clinical realm to include the operational field.

The clinical focus includes specialized aspects of care in the air in addition to maintaining hospital-based competencies while keeping abreast with research and changing care practices. The medical community is always exploring and making new advancements hence the knowledge base is always expanding.

As a result, learning needs to be continuous and is most effective if purposeful. For us, operational knowledge concentrates on aircraft systems, emergency equipment and procedures, as well as standard flightline and safety procedures. The Airmen of the 86th AES are experts in the field, which combined with our core values directly impacts their effectiveness in a leadership role.

Developing such leaders has paid dividends not only in day-to-day operations, but moreover in deployment settings.

Our personnel routinely deploy forward as teams into a joint environment. Primarily, we interact with Army and Navy facilities in new operations like the humanitarian mission recently flown into Libya.

On the other hand, for established deployments like Afghanistan, the aeromedical community typically mixes active duty, Reserve and Guard personnel teams.
In either scenario, personnel need to be an expert in their role in order to identify potential threats to the patients or crew, formulate strategies to mitigate or eliminate the threats, and clearly articulate the solutions.

At the start of a new year, it is customary to seek ways to improve yourself in the coming year with resolutions.

Consider a couple of professional resolutions. First, increase your specialty and developmental knowledge by purposeful and continuous study.

Second, broaden the breadth and increase the frequency of how you demonstrate embodiment of the core values.

Knowing your job and adherence to core values ensures you are not “just” an Airman but an Airman. In the coming year, resources will be limited, including personnel, and there will be no room for “just” an Airman.