Flight medics take care of flyers

Airman 1st Class Nagelia Harrison, 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron flight medicine clinic, prepares to draw a blood sample from a patient’s arm. The flight medicine clinic caters specifically to the health of aircrew members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ahsley Tyler)

Airman 1st Class Nagelia Harrison, 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron flight medicine clinic, prepares to draw a blood sample from a patient’s arm. The flight medicine clinic caters specifically to the health of aircrew members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ahsley Tyler)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The 379th Expeditionary Wing's aerospace medicine team provides care for the flyers so they can stay in the fight. 

"We are the maintainers of the wetware that flies the hardware," said Maj. Walter Matthews, chief of aerospace medicine for the wing. Flight surgeons are rated aircrew along with pilots and navigators and are required to fly four hours per month to maintain currency. 

"In order to evaluate the factors involved in flying here, we fly with our aircrews," said Maj. Matthews, deployed from Cannon Air Force Base. 

Traditional medicine deals with abnormal physiology in a normal environment, while aerospace medicine usually deals with normal physiology in an abnormal environment. The flight medics provide occupational medicine for maintainers, ensure the safety of the workplace and oversee their water and food quality. The team also assists the fire chief with the medical aspects of in-flight emergency investigations along with gathering the medical intelligence from the rest of the crew members. 

"The quality of medical care received in both the flight medicine clinic and the main clinic is the same, but flight surgeons see medicine through a distinctly operational lens," said Major Matthews. "We are charged with being the bridge between the flying world and the medical world.

The most critical requirement for the crew to accomplish their mission is to gain the trust of the flying community. To do this, the flight medics spend most of their time in the aircraft on the line. 

"Aircrews can sometimes have a hard time trusting docs, but they usually trust 'their own.' This is why flight surgeons are as much aircrew as physicians," said Major Matthews. 

Not only do the flyers rely on the support of the physicians, but the doctors rely on the flyers as well. 

The crew must not only fix what is wrong with a flyer, but must determine if that condition will cause problems in the jet or degrade the flyer's ability to effectively fight in the air. 

"A strong bridge must be well-anchored on both sides," said the major. 

Each and every one of the flight medicine Airmen are part of one of the flying squadrons here. The medics are part of the squadron medical element for those groups and are given the responsibility to keep the Airmen healthy. 

"The doctors, independent duty medical technicians and medical technicians all bring different skills to the table to form a cohesive unit that can deal with anything that is presented to them," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Nored, deployed from Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. 

Off the line, on a daily basis the flight medicine clinic sees patients for initial illnesses, follow ups, shots and malaria medication. 

"We are building a healthier population by being vigilant with our immunizations program," said Tech. Sgt. Marc Marrerro, deployed from Offutt Air Force, Neb. 

They maintain a presence of all aspects of the mission which affect the flying community by ensuring the health and performance of the flyers, providing primary medical care, conducting evaluations and