Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan – When the Army goes on missions outside the wire, they are susceptible to any number of threats, ranging from extreme weather conditions and rocks being thrown at them to small arms fire and roadside bombs. Having well trained medical professionals attached to Army units ensures a quick response in the event a Soldier is wounded and in need of emergency medical attention.
For two Air Force medical services technicians deployed to Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan, their mission is to travel outside the wire and provide that crucial medical care to approximately 400 Soldiers assigned to the 298th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
Staff Sgts. Ryan Hartman and Carlos Meza, Air Force medics, are Joint Expeditionary Tasked, or JET, Airmen attached to the 298th CSSB, and are both serving the first deployment of their career. According to their medic team lead, Army Sgt. 1st Class Wes Blanscet, these Airmen are tasked with providing medical support for convoy missions throughout western Afghanistan.
Both of these NCOs bring a wealth of experience to this deployment. Hartman, deployed from the 81st Medical Operations Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., has spent five years in the medical field, serving the last three as an emergency services technician. Meza, deployed from the 377th MDOS at Kirtland AFB, N.M., has nearly four years of medical experience and has completed the paramedic program with Air Force pararescuemen.
“Our training has prepared us to work under stressful situations with a sense of urgency and competency,” said Meza, a native of Big Pine. “Mass casualties, urgent medevac, and patient care under fire are some scenarios we’ve been trained to deal with.”
Just because they’re now deployed, doesn’t mean their training is complete. Being assigned to a team with three other medics from the Army, and having a seasoned paramedic team leader in Blanscet, has broadened their medical knowledge as well as provided them opportunities for additional hands-on training to hone their skills even more.
According to Hartman, their Army team lead has trained them for unique situations they could face while outside the wire, including searching their 40-pound equipment bag for an item in darkness, administering IVs wearing night-vision goggles, and performing buddy carries, all while wearing their full combat gear.
“We’ve gone through some great training prior to this deployment, but now that we’re out here where it counts, we have to keep training,” said Hartman, a native of Fort Walton Beach, Fla. “We are out on the road at all hours of the day, so we have to prepare for a wide range of scenarios. We’re always training so those important techniques stay fresh in our minds and we can just react when called upon.”
All the training and experience they’ve built up in their Air Force careers, crosses their minds every time they’re out on a mission and the convoy encounters an unexpected situation.
“We’ve had instances where road blocks have been set up for our convoys, bottles of flammable substances have been thrown at our fuel tankers, and roadside bombs have been identified boxing our convoys in,” Meza said. “While that’s happening, you’re in the back of the vehicle, your adrenaline starts to pump and you’re running through different scenarios and prepping for what items you might need if the situation goes bad.”
Being the only two Airmen deployed with more than 400 Soldiers, the medics, having never worked with the Army before, weren’t sure what to expect or how the Soldiers would interact with them. They quickly realized they were part of the 298th CSSB family.
“Everyone here from the moment we arrived was really welcoming,” Hartman said. “It’s like we’ve known them for years. We might not be in the same service, but we’re on the same team. We all want to reach the same goals.”
Battalion leadership has observed how these two Airmen have meshed with the battalion’s Soldiers and is impressed how Hartman and Meza have carried themselves during the first few months of their deployment so far.
“These professional and knowledgeable Airmen play an important part in the Army’s mission here at Shindand,” said Army Capt. Emanuel Barber, 298th CSSB S-3, which oversees logistics, training and anti-terrorism. “Not only do they provide medical support to the Soldiers here, but they also support convoys delivering critical materials to bases throughout RC-West. They’re a valuable asset.”
After a long mission, these Airmen are sweaty, tired, and most nights just want to get online to talk to their loved ones back home in the U.S. They’re missing birthdays, anniversaries and the comforts of home, but they know what they’re doing here is making a difference.
“The responsibility of taking care of your fellow Soldiers is a very rewarding and humbling one,” Meza said. “There is a great deal of pride knowing that you are the person that they are going to call upon when they’re having the worst day of their lives and you’re going to be there to help. Not only are these Soldiers our American heroes, but they are brothers, sisters, fathers and cousins that I can help send back home to their loved ones. There isn’t a greater feeling out there.”
(The author, Senior Airman Patrick McKenna, is a U.S. Air Forces Central Command combat correspondent. This article has been reprinted with permission from the U.S. Air Force.)