FALLS CHURCH, Virginia — Air Force nurses and medical technicians are answering our nation’s call, and now more than ever, during this pandemic, we know they are heroes one and all.
Featured on the nightly news, nurses and medical technicians are filling manpower gaps in New York and elsewhere, risking their own lives in the process. They are ordinary people, but they are doing extraordinary work. They are integral to the Air Force Medical Service, and against this unseen enemy, they are the Air Force’s strongest and best defense.
“The global response to COVID-19 underscores the value of nurses and techs within our communities and around the world,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Marks, command surgeon, Air Mobility Command, and Chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps. “Nurses and techs protect the health of our Air Force family in many different and expanded ways as we work to contain this emerging threat.”
Air Force nurses and technicians are training on new technology to move COVID-19 patients, transporting infants born abroad back to the United States, and executing new triage processes on bases to keep Airmen and their families safe.
“Today, nurses and medical technicians are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with compassion and critical thinking, while demonstrating their strong dedication to the Air Force mission,” said Chief Master Sgt. Ruben Vazquez, Aerospace Medical Services and Surgical Services career field manager. “Everywhere Air Force Medicine is present, be it large or small arenas, critical or routine, on the ground or in the air, our nurses and techs are there answering our nation’s call.”
Read more: Additional medical reservists called up to support fight against COVID-19
When called upon, medics from the 433rd Airlift Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland were ready to deploy within hours.
“The fact that we were able to get the phone call Friday night at 8 p.m. and then boots leaving at 10 a.m. Sunday; I’ve never seen that,” said Tech. Sgt. David Rudd, a 433rd Medical Squadron respiratory technician. “It’s amazing how all of us were able to get ready so quickly and it shows what our country is capable of.”
That capability does not go unnoticed.
“Air Force nurses and techs stand ready to respond at a moment’s notice,” Marks said. “I could not be prouder of Air Force nurses and techs, what they represent, the hope they bring, and their selfless attitude. It is an honor to represent them as the Chief Nurse of the United States Air Force.”
Read more: 433rd AW mobilizes medics for COVID-19 response
Air Force nurses and techs continue to adapt to support fellow Airmen and their families as the pandemic upends many aspects of daily life.
For the safety of all patients, nurses and techs work outside and in tents conducting drive-up health screenings, operate curbside pharmacies and institute telehealth screening.
The nurses assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing Family Health Clinic, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, are often one of the first providers' patients see, and play a key role in triaging and directing patients with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.
“I work with a team of 20 personnel to help screen for illnesses and direct testing for individuals who meet testing criteria for COVID-19,” said Maj. Rachael Rhodes, 28th Operational Medicine Clinic flight commander. “We collect data for the screening questionnaires, order testing and collect samples when needed. The nurses advise patients on disease management and offer home care advice if applicable.
For Capt. Racheal Rivera, a 27th Special Operations Medical Group Women’s Health Clinic nurse practitioner at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, her skills, resiliency and training prepared her for this crisis.
“Our medical group created a 24/7 COVID-19 public health hotline,” Rivera said. “We answered more than 2,200 calls from the local community. This let us do some triage remotely, and lessened the chance for exposure for our personnel and our patients.”
Staff Sgt. Joseph Burrow, an Individual Duty Medical Technician, or IDMT, with 27th SOMDG, has more than 240 hours as a shift lead for the public health hotline. Burrow attributes his ability to adapt and perform in this unprecedented situation to his medical technical school and Special Operations Forces Medical Element pipeline training, unique to military medical technicians.
"Being an IDMT means being proficient and able to work independently,” Burrow said. “IDMT school definitely made it easier to be so intimately involved with patient care during this pandemic. I’ve built skills and knowledge that will help me respond and treat patients during any future outbreaks. It also helps me be better prepared for deployments and operations in settings where we may not immediately have everything we need."
No matter the mission and challenge, these heroes continue to deliver Trusted Care wherever they are needed.
“The willingness of the Air Force Medical Service Total Force nurses and techs to risk their lives during this pandemic is noble and courageous,” said Chief Master Sgt. G. Steve Cum, Medical Enlisted Chief and Enlisted Corps Chief. “President Kennedy said ‘We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.’ These medics have always made a difference in our lives, so thank you to all nurses and techs. Without you, the mission is not possible.
“I am proud of each and every medic and honored to call you my brothers and sisters. Stay strong, stay safe, and stay great!”