In-theater medical treatment keeps warriors in the fight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Spencer Gallien
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
A group of deployed Airmen stands around a table, carefully performing their jobs, as they've trained for years to do.

Doctors stand over a patient, meticulously inserting a long, cylindrical laparoscopic tube through, what appears to be, the patient's abdomen. An anesthesiologist monitors his heart rate, ensuring he is adequately sedated during the procedure. The surgery technician hurriedly prepares equipment, knowing the doctors' minds before they can ask him for the next medical instrument. Finally, a nurse in the background keeps track of each piece of equipment used, compiling the necessary paperwork.

Members of the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group are performing a right inguinal hernia repair on the patient as part of the In-Theater Care Program, also known as the Wounded Warrior program.

"In the past year, we provided care to 359 in-theater care patients and 628 regulated aeromedically evacuated patients," said Col. Rachel Lefebvre, the 379th EMDG commander. "Treating forces who need medical procedures or wound recovery in theater is a force multiplier that is in high demand by frontline forces. The ITCP allows us to meet medical needs and provide a recuperative environment that has returned 98 percent of our patients without extended removal from the (area of responsibility)."

The ITCP, an above-and-beyond initiative of the 379th EMDG, brings U.S. servicemembers and coalition partners, who have been injured in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, here to receive medical treatment, rather than being sent out of theater.

"The ITCP goal is to do procedures with relative short recovery times," said Lt. Col. Eric Burdge, a 379th EMDG general surgeon. "By doing this, we keep troop strength up and
allow forward medical units space for more serious injuries.

"When servicemembers deploy, they put a lot more stress on their bodies, and maybe some of their injuries were pre-existing, and they've aggravated them. We're here to make sure they can get back to doing their job."

Although hernias and knee injuries are some of the more common injuries, medical unit members see a variety of ailments in servicemembers coming through the program.

The team here has also worked on fractured bones, gunshot wounds, ruptured tendons, gallbladders, infections, and various other injuries and ailments, said Col. David Noll, a 379th EMDG orthopedic surgeon.

Currently, the medical group ranges from nurses, doctors and medical technicians, to administrative and support staff members.

"We are all part of a team," said Maj. Dion Vecchio, the 379th EMDG nurse manager for in-patient services. "Many of us know each other, working together at some point in our career. Everyone does their job, fills their role, but in the end, we're all one team supporting the medical needs of the AOR."

After the need for 379th EMDG members to host the ITCP program was identified, the medical group began treating wounded warriors in January 2007.

"It's a worthwhile cause," said Lt. Col. Billye Hutchison, a 379th EMDG deputy commander. "We've seamlessly integrated the program into our normal operations, while continuing to support the needs of the base with the same manning we've always had.

"We are a level-2 care facility," she added. "After patients are stabilized in the AOR, their injuries are assessed and medical professionals decide whether they need to be sent home for more intensive treatment, or if they can be sent here for treatment and return to their unit."

During many of the medical professionals' time here, being able to support the frontline fighter through the ITCP has been a dream come true.

"I'm a military brat and a nurse," Major Vecchio said. "Taking care of the warfighter is something I was born to do."

As operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom continue, officials said, the medical group here will continue to provide servicemembers with the proper medical treatment to stay in the "fight," through teamwork and hard work.

"Collective contributions have defined teamwork with a capital T-E-A-M, completing the mission with discipline, focus, innovation, commitment and a positive attitude," Colonel Lefebvre said. "One team taking care of the mission. One family taking care of each other. Mission first, people always."