Enlisted medics - Dover Airman provides needed care with pride

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
"Medic! I need a medic over here," shouts an Airman as he swiftly attempts on-the-spot self-aid, buddy-care bandaging techniques on his fellow Soldier, who was just wounded severely by incoming hostile fire from a nearby building. Under a cover of friendly machine-gun fire, a medic quickly comes to the Soldier's aid and takes over the life-saving procedures for the Airman. 

The responding medic doesn't hold a doctorate in medicine, nor does he receive the special pays for health professionals that his officer counterparts receive. He is an enlisted Air Force medic - an independent duty medical technician. 

Since the early days of American warfare, the lives of wounded servicemembers have always been entrusted with those who wear their rank in stripes, chevrons and rockers - enlisted medics and corpsmen. 

Some Team Dover members have visited the base clinic recently expecting a commissioned physician's assistant or doctor to treat them and were surprised when Staff Sgt. Christopher Dwyer, an enlisted IDMT, entered the room instead. 

"People are always confused when they see me come in to perform patient examinations or render medical treatment," said the sergeant. "I am the only IDMT on base. I can treat active-duty patients, diagnose illness and prescribe medicine." 

In addition to caring for patients at hospitals and clinics, the medics test water supplies and food facilities. 

"Can you imagine a base with only 200 Airmen assigned and 100 of those Airmen come down with food poisoning? Imagine what that would do to the mission," said Sergeant Dwyer. "That is why, in a deployed environment, an IDMT tests all food and water coming into the base. We get extensive training, which is necessary to fill IDMT boots." 

An IDMT must be at least a senior Airman with four years experience in direct patient care areas such as emergency services, outpatient services or critical care and that's just the first step in what is required, he said. 

"Members must be highly motivated to provide quality medical care to active-duty patients," he continued. "IDMTs must possess and demonstrate strong leadership traits, managerial abilities, good interpersonal skills and the ability to apply sound clinical, administrative and supervisory principles and judgment." 

In addition, there are many mandatory and highly-desirable professional courses the IDMT must attend as prerequisites for assuming the responsibilities. Airmen must have completed an approved professional military education school commensurate with their rank. Also, they must have current status as a nationally-registered emergency medical technician, be certified as a basic cardiac life support instructor, be a self-aid and buddy care instructor, have training in advanced cardiac life support and pre-hospital trauma life support, and have attended advanced trauma life support and pediatric advanced life support classes. 

However, these medics are not doctors, continued the sergeant. That is why all the training is necessary; a patient's life may depend on a IDMT's competence. 

While at Dover, the sergeant, assigned to the 436th Aeromedical Dental Operations Squadron, works in a normal clinic setting and his duties fall under the supervision of a physician. Home station is considered a training atmosphere and the IDMT serves as an acute care provider for active-duty members. 

"I am comfortable that (Sergeant Dwyer) can handle just about anything," said Maj. Marie-France McIntee, 436th ADOS flight doctor. "Our manning is extremely short in flight medicine right now. He has skills that will not only be valuable in the deployed setting but he is helping out in our time critical shortage by seeing some of our sick call - great experience for him since these are the types of issues we'll see when we deploy together. Because we work together in flight medicine, we are developing a working relationship that will be useful in the deployed setting." 

Most IDMTs are assigned to specialized unit taskings, fighter squadrons, joint task force missions, special operations or direct combat operations, said Sergeant Dwyer. 

When deployed, IDMTs assume many roles. On any given day they may be seeing patients, testing water, inspecting food facilities, and reporting health issues to the site commander. Commanders rely on the inputs for the base' s health and well-being. 

The wide span of duties the medics perform is rooted in a long history of evolution and change. 

According to an historical account on the IDMT Association Web site, only a few enlisted Airmen were permitted to transfer from the Army Medical Service to the Air Force when it became a separate service in 1947. The Air Force began its own training program in the early 1950s when radar installations were being built and the need for more skilled technicians became apparent. Since these installations were manned with fewer than 100 people, it was neither cost-effective nor practical to assign a physician, dentist or other health care professional to every site. But since it was essential to have medical care available, the IDMTs were assigned to fill this need. 

After the end of the Cold War, the number of sites requiring independent medical support drastically decreased. However, the 1990s introduced new operational doctrine including military operations other than war. When operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom began, the need for IDMTs at bare-base locations increased. 

The history is one to be proud of, said Chief Master Sgt. David Lewis, IDMT career field manager. 

"IDMTs of the past existed for the sole purpose of providing care for patients as the only enlisted provider," he said. "They truly want to do it for the sake of the patient." 

Sergeant Dwyer agrees. 

"There are many jobs out there and they certainly all require dedication and professionalism," he said. "But, being an IDMT is more than that, it's a calling that - though only a few in history have answered - has saved the lives of so many." 

(Some information for this story provided by Staff Sgt. Kristina Barrett, 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs)