Medical flight assist PJs to ensure 'that others may live'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Eric Schloeffel
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
By Airman 1st Class Eric Schloeffel
Public Affairs

While pararescuemen often receive much attention for the heroics inherent to their life-saving abilities, the medical teams who support their high-intensity mission also play a major role ensuring 'that others may live.' 

The 38th Rescue Squadron's Operational Support Medical Flight ensures PJs are fully capable of performing the paramedic aspects of the mission and are also called upon to execute casualty evacuations in the deployed environment. 

The flight currently consists of four flight surgeons, five independent duty medical technicians and one medical logistician who provide support to Moody's 44 PJs and 11 combat rescue officers, as well as Airmen from the 71st and 41st Rescue Squadrons during deployments. 

"Our main mission is to organize, train and equip operational medics so they can provide the highest level of care and support to the Air Force combat search and rescue mission," said Capt. (Dr.) Wendi Wohltmann, 38th OSM flight surgeon. 

To perform this mission, the flight plans and conducts weekly training exercises with the PJs to evaluate their performance treating simulated survivors in a combat scenario. They are also available for on-line medical control during real-world missions to assist PJs in handling situations outside of their approved protocols, said Captain Wohltmann. 

One of the more intense aspects of the deployed environment for the 38th OSM is the casualty and medical evacuation missions, said Captain Wohltmann. These traditionally Army-led missions are now largely handled by the Air Force in Afghanistan and consist of transporting injured people from the battlefield to medical treatment facilities or delivering emergency medical care to wherever needed. 

"Medevac usually means the injured person isn't under fire, and they basically need to be transferred to a higher level of care," said Captain Wohltmann. "These missions typically don't require PJs, so IDMT's and aeromedical evacuation techs fly with the HH-60 crews and treat the patient until we can deliver them to a hospital." 

Some members of the 38th OSM have recorded more than 30 combat missions during a single deployment performing these duties. But in order to sustain such a high operations tempo unique to typical Air Force medical assignments, it takes a certain drive and desire to perform on a larger stage, said Captain Wohltmann. 

"In order to do this job, you have to be willing to deploy often and work well with others," said the captain. "This isn't a controlled environment where you can sit safely in an office from nine-to-five every day. We go on many temporary duty assignments and deployments, but I look at that aspect as an upside." 

While all Air Force flight surgeons go through four years of medical school to achieve their doctorates, IDMTs also experience highly specialized training that separates them from typical medical technicians. 

"The IDMT course is an intense three months of training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and you have to be a staff, technical or master sergeant to attend," said Staff Sgt. Ray Vazquez, 38th OSM IDMT. "Our training entails all aspects of a hospital, in case we are attached to a unit that is the first to arrive in a deployed location." 

The IDMT position can be aptly described as a "medical technician on steroids," as their range of abilities can stretch from prescribing medications, dealing with TRICARE issues and testing for safe drinking water in a deployed environment. 

"My job is basically to be a mini-clinic, and I can see patients like a doctor can for minor issues," said Sergeant Vazquez. "In the past, I was a clinic technician and just wanted to get outside and do something in the field. It wasn't that I didn't like my job; it just started to get real repetitive. This career field has opened up a lot of doors in terms of training and has allowed me to get my hands dirty." 

The members of the flight seem to take the challenges and intense tempo of working with the largest Air Force active duty pararescue squadron and 'getting their hands dirty' in-stride, and enjoy knowing their operational mission can play a pivotal role in a life-or-death situation, said Captain Wohltmann. 

"I like to think our PJs are the most medically prepared in the Air Force," she said. "I have full confidence that if tasked to rescue a survivor with life-threatening medical injuries, the 38th Rescue Squadron PJs would do everything possible to save their life. It's extremely rewarding to support them in anyway possible; that's why I do this job."