All in a day’s work for combat medics
By Airman 1st Class Shane M. Phipps, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 28, 2013
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Imagine holding your brother's or sister's life in your hands, as you crouch over them, ignoring their screams of anguish and bloodied, mangled limbs. You try to let your training kick in while seeing their entire existence slowly fade away. Now imagine you are doing all this in the midst of utter chaos, in an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile location.
As frightening as this situation may be, for combat medics from all branches of the military, this scene is often "just another day at the office," and 366th Medical Group medics are no exception.
"Our job puts us wherever we're needed during a deployment," said Staff Sgt. Michael Sibbett, 366th MDG technician. "Joint expeditionary taskings, where we are augmented into a group of Army guys as their medic, is what we primarily see these days."
Sibbett has deployed twice, each time earning valuable medical experience in the process.
"I worked with Special Forces and treated Iraqi patients," he said. "I remember in my last deployment, I treated one guy who had been shot multiple times."
Sibbett's coworker, Senior Airman Zachariah Gray, 366th Aerospace Medical technician, also understands what multiple deployments can be like.
"I almost always treated serious traumas, we rarely received walk-ins," said Gray. "Anyone who walked through the door or who came in off a [helicopter], we took care of. It didn't matter if they were American, Iraqi or a coalition partner."
For centuries, combat medics have been thrust into incredibly unpleasant situations that most people are fortunate to never experience.
"Every person is different, and everyone handles what they see differently, but no matter what, it's traumatic to see someone completely mangled," said Sibbett. "On my first deployment, I saluted caskets almost on a daily basis and saw patients with missing limbs or burns. The burn smell never leaves your head. It's a distinct smell that you can't walk away from and you will remember it for the rest of your life."
Gray also can comprehend the unique stressors that come with witnessing traumas on a regular basis.
"As hard as you try, you're not going to always save [some patients], and sometimes it's just a matter of coping with that kind of thing," said Gray. "It can be difficult to deal with some of the things we see, but I just keep trucking to get through. Still, every now and then, I'll need to just sit and think."
Despite the incomprehensible challenges medics face while deployed, Gray feels it's still worth it.
"I think all medics should deploy on a joint-expeditionary tasking at least once, because you're never really fully 'blooded' until you have that experience," he said.
For Sibbett, a first-hand personal experience helped him realize the kind-of impact heroes like he and Gray have on families all over the world.
"My cousin got blown-up in Iraq in 2006 and people doing what I do, is how he made it back and is still alive to this day," said Sibbett.
Though their challenges are many, and often times unfathomable to the average individual, the reason these warrior-medics do what they do, remains clear.
"We really have one of the most rewarding jobs you could have," exclaimed Sibbett. "There is no better feeling than knowing you are helping someone see their family again -- that's the best feeling you could possibly have."