Tell us your stories

  • Published
  • By Col. Judy Marchetti
  • 934th Aeromedical Staging Squadron commander
As we approach the mid point of 2008, many of us are turning our minds toward our upcoming AEF in 2009. We know our missions and what we need to do to deploy, and we certainly know that we are at war. However, something Maj. Gen. Martin Mazick, 22nd Air Force commander, said on his visit to our base last UTA has stuck with me. Namely, that we are a "military at war, but a nation at peace." In other words, most people in this country are not feeling or experiencing the war in their everyday lives. 

This was further brought home during a conversation with one of my unit members that same day regarding his deployment to Iraq. He stated one of the common themes our deployed members have experienced since their return has been the lack of interest in their "stories". I then asked him to tell me one of his stories. He proceeded to tell me about a 19-year-old soldier who had been admitted to the medical facility with burns so severe he was not expected to live.
This soldier's parents were flying to Germany, and the medical team decided to do everything within their power to keep this young man alive until he reached Germany, so he could die in his parents arms. He then stated "we were successful, and I'll remember that for the rest of my life". 

Talk about something taking your breath away, and what a testament to determination, selfless service and team work in the face of a difficult situation. I left that conversation with a realization of how important it is to hear our deplorers' stories. In that spirit, I'd like to relay the following description of our Aeromedical Staging Squadron deployment to Balad AB, Iraq in 2006-2007, by Tech. Sgt. Ron Holbeck, Health Services Management technician. 

"Thirty plus members of the 934th ASTS participated in an AEF deployment to Balad, ending in mid-May of 2007. We were away from our families, friends, civilian employers and general way of life for almost four months, doing a dangerous job requiring commitment, skill, perseverance and patience. During that time, we saw a wide variety of patients, ranging from small injuries obtained on a basketball court, to traumatic, life-altering injuries such as the lone survivor of a plane crash, victims of IED attacks, gunshot wounds, and many amputees. 

Balad AB, Iraq, was the most frequently attacked base in Iraq during our stay. On average, there were three mortar attacks each day, with some landing in our housing areas or flying overhead. We heard gunfire along our perimeter, and some of our patients were people living a few doors down from us who had been injured in an attack. It was all a part of life in a war zone, and something we had to learn to deal with.
The majority of the ASTS members in Balad worked in the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility. Another five members worked in the Air Force Theater Hospital. Most worked 12-hour days, six days a week. We were driven to work hard for our patients, all of whom were sacrificing much more than any of us were. 

The CASF was a staging facility where patients stayed while awaiting aeromedical evacuation to the next level of care, usually in Kuwait, Qatar, or Germany. Prior to flight, CASF staff addressed any issues that could affect a patient's response to altitude. CASF staff redressed wounds, monitored cardiac patients, gave intravenous fluids and administered medications to ensure patients remained stabilized for the upcoming flight. 

When flight time arrived, we transported the patients to the flightline and loaded them on the plane. Members of the 934th ASTS had leadership roles in the CASF, including that of Chief Nurse, Chief Flight Surgeon, and day-shift NCOIC.
The AFTH, a fully functioning, state-of-the-art hospital, was a much larger operation than the CASF. Located in a tent, the AFTH received patients from helicopters from throughout Iraq. The hospital performed surgical operations on the most extreme injuries one can receive in war. 

The AFTH offered diverse services, including a blood bank where members could donate blood, and was the largest Air Force hospital to be deployed since the Vietnam War. Members of the 934th ASTS filled key roles in the AFTH, including
First Sergeant, NCOIC of the Apheresis Lab, and NCOIC of Hospital Logistics.
Deployments for most people are life changing events. I put it on a scale with other large milestones in life, such as graduating from high school, getting married, or having children. 

For most of us, it was an event that changed our lives, and there will be a line drawn where we will say "before Iraq" and "after Iraq."
A person sees, hears and experiences things on a deployment that aren't experienced anywhere else. In our medical arena, we often saw uplifting miracles and terrible tragedies on the same day. We missed holidays and events at home, and these were often the hardest days. However, I believe we returned as better airmen and better people. 

Thanks for listening and don't forget to ask those who have deployed to tell you their stories.