Flight medic stays grounded, keeps AF flying

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mark Graff
  • 65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Although the 65th Air Base Wing has no owned aircraft, Lajes Field's strategic importance as the world's only mid-Atlantic military airfield ensures that one Lajes Field medical technician stays plenty busy.

Even though only a handful of rated officers are assigned to the wing, Staff Sgt. Yvette Baldwin, the NCO in charge of flight medicine, stays busy caring for some of the Airmen who enable the wing's operations support and other missions, namely air traffic controllers, but also other Airmen whose day-to-day jobs take them onto Lajes Field's flightline.

"We take care of the Airmen that keep other Airmen safe, whether it's air traffic controllers, safety experts, firefighters or other first responders," Baldwin said. "We take care of those career fields with occupational hazards, like shift workers, making sure their work environment is safe, teaching them ways to beat fatigue and just checking on everyone's wellness."

Baldwin is a medical technician, but she has specialized in flight medicine her entire 8-year career.

In flight medicine, Baldwin cares for first responders -- firefighters, medics, or security forces members -- whose work days can include dangers like aircraft accidents or fires. Ironically, she also cares for the 65th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controllers who work long, stressful hours managing multiple, in-flight or taxiing aircraft while ensuring that each operates safely.

Baldwin also cares for transient pilots, such as those stopping at Lajes Field during fighter movements.

"I enjoy flight medicine because I know a lot about it, and I am a hands-on type of person," said Baldwin, whose father and two older sisters also served in the Air Force. "We deal with lots of medical standards, so you've got to be on top of it."

Because of the flying-related nature of her work, Baldwin is specially trained in responding to aircraft accidents and participating in mishap investigations. During an August major accident response exercise, Baldwin tested her readiness alongside many of Lajes Field's other medics as they responded to a mock aircraft accident that caused multiple injuries.

As the lone NCO in her clinic, Baldwin is essentially always on-call for her patients. A typical, after hours call from one of Baldwin's air traffic controllers may find her advising the Airman on what type of over-the-counter medicine the controller can take and how it may affect his ability to work in the air traffic control tower the following day.

"My patients know that they can get in contact with me anytime," said Baldwin, even though she values spending her off-duty time cooking and playing with her two-year old son. "I know all of them by first name, and they're just assured knowing that they can always get in because it's important; it's their pay and the mission."

As is human nature, Airmen sometimes shy away from visiting the flight medicine clinic, Baldwin said, fearing they may be diagnosed with a duty-limiting condition. No matter the ailment, though, Baldwin's main objective is to get the Airman healthy and back on duty status again.

"If they see me once, they see me twice. That's typically how it goes," Baldwin said. "If one of my patients has to come in for an appointment because of illness, we may 'DNIC' him, meaning duties not to include flying or controlling. Then he has to come back for a second appointment before we place him back on controlling status."

"But, if a controller is sick, he can't work anyway," she pointed out. "So, when they come to see me, we get them well and back to work. Those two appointments are their 'ticket to fly'."

Previously assigned to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, for six years, Baldwin's patient base at Lajes is smaller, but equally important.

"Laughlin (AFB) is a big flying training base, so I was taking care of a lot of student pilots," she said. With a smaller patient base here, Baldwin's patients include the base's two flight surgeons and family members of the air traffic controllers.

As a technical school student, Baldwin's mettle as a medic was tested early.

"I was at Lackland Air Force Base (Texas) during Hurricane Katrina," she said. "We had to stay an extra week, and that's where I got most of my trauma experience. I was just certain I was going to be assigned to an emergency room unit after that."

After gaining significant experience in trauma situations and working in flight medicine clinics, Baldwin is applying to become a physician's assistant in the Air Force. Despite her personal ambitions, Baldwin's professional focus remains on flight medicine.

"Once you work flight medicine, some say you can get stuck there because you're such an asset. But I love what I do," she said.

Like her fellow Lajes Field medics, Baldwin draws job satisfaction from caring for and building relationships with her patients.

"My patients treat me well," Baldwin said. "I'm happy to help them because they know I'm here to take care of them, so they take care of me. Aside from money, one thing people are truly concerned with is their health."