Pep talks and Pepto-Bismol: Reserve Citizen Airmen care for cadets
Story by 1st Lt. Rachel Ingram on 08/03/2019
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Each year, Air Force Reserve units from across the country quietly migrate to Jack’s Valley Training Complex, located on a remote section of the U.S. Air Force Academy campus in Colorado, to support the next generation of Air Force leaders.
Nearly 1,000 cadets join the Air Force officer ranks annually through commissioning at USAFA. Before graduation day arrives, however, they must go through Basic Cadet Training, which culminates in a 10-day field event at Jack’s Valley.
During BCT for the USAFA class of 2023, more than 1,100 first-year cadets honed their combat skills, slept in tents, and completed seven strenuous courses focused on confidence, teamwork and leadership.
Throughout the training, cadets endured bone and joint injuries, muscle spasms, dehydration, blisters, concussions and breathing difficulties. Minor injuries and ailments brought the potential to take a cadet out of the field and into an emergency room lobby, sacrificing valuable training time.
The USAFA program is demanding and every second counts. To ease the burden on the Academy clinic and maximize training time, USAFA personnel established field medical facilities to meet the cadets where they were, said Maj. Michael Brunson, medical director of cadet clinic, USAFA.
“This mission has to happen,” Brunson said, “and we can’t do it without Reserve units coming in to support us for these two weeks.”
Approximately 10 Air Force Reserve units, totaling about 120 personnel, travelled to Jack’s Valley this year to operate a variety of field medical facilities, including separate tents for orthopedics, optometry, a pharmacy, sports medicine and more, throughout the field training portion of BCT.
“The clinic we are running out here mimics the environment we deploy to, so the experience is very beneficial, especially for Reserve medical technicians who may not practice medicine in the civilian world,” said Col. Joseph Lawlor, chief of aerospace medicine, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
A traditional reservist, Lawlor practices family medicine in the civilian sector and worked 12-hour shifts at Jack’s Valley to accommodate the average 60 patients per day in the field clinic alone.
“Field medicine is very different from doing an IV in a clinic or emergency room,” he said. “As military medical professionals, we need to be able to do our jobs regardless of the environment.”
The field medical facilities at Jack’s Valley met the needs of the Academy cadets, night and day, while simultaneously satisfying reserve squadrons’ training requirements.
“It can be challenging to create a simulated field environment at home station just for training purposes, but out here in Jack’s Valley, we can practice more aspects of the job,” said Master Sgt. Robert Cain, health services management administrator, 914th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York.
Inside the medical tents, military medical professionals from different squadrons collaborated to provide the best care possible, despite never training together before.
Capt. Nikkie Cossette, a clinical nurse with the 452nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, California, returned from an overseas deployment earlier this year.
“I noticed right away that the majority of people working here in the clinic were reservists, but we could all work together because we train consistently,” she said. “This specific type of field training aligns very closely with our mission as an aeromedical staging squadron.”
At Jack’s Valley, required training extended beyond simulation and checklists it held real meaning for the Reserve Citizen Airmen charged with the responsibility of responding to acute medical needs.
“During other annual tours, you might just do scenario-based or block training, but here at Basic Cadet Training, there are real people who truly need help, and they are looking to us to help them,” said Senior Airman Erica Wyeth, 445th Aerospace Medical Technician, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Each injured cadet was treated with respect, care and compassion.
“It’s not just about the medical care,” Cossette adds. “We are giving cadets that Airman-to-Airman support. We’re here to patch you up, give you a pep talk, and get you back out there.”
Cossette’s squadron has sent citizen airmen out to Jack’s Valley the past three years, and Wyeth’s squadron, the past two. Next year, you can bet that more Citizen Airmen will show up once again, happy to help in any way they can.
“If the Reserve components didn’t come to support us and our field medical facilities,” Brunson speculates, “it would be mission failure.”