RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The care wounded warriors receive on the battlegrounds of Southwest Asia is greatly responsible for their high survival rate.
At home the registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses and medical technicians of the 359th Medical Operations Squadron bring the same level of dedication, professionalism and medical expertise to their duties at the Randolph Clinic.
For the next week these healthcare providers who ensure the base's active-duty personnel are fit to fight and who attend to the needs of Airmen's families as well as retirees and their dependents are in the spotlight as Randolph observes National Nurses Week. The observance began Thursday and ends Wednesday, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing.
"The goal of the American Nurses Association National Nurses Week is to raise awareness of the critical role of nursing personnel in our nation's health care," said Col. Nancy Dezell, Air Education and Training Command Medical Force Development and Formal Training Division chief. "In the Air Force we also celebrate the role of our aerospace medical technicians as well as our nurse corps officers during nurses week because we are such close integral partners in providing health care - in the air and on the ground."
Randolph's balanced medical support staff of 27 registered nurses, nine licensed vocational nurses and 42 medical technicians - a combination of active-duty personnel, civilians and contractors - provide myriad outpatient services in the areas of pediatrics, family care, dental care and flight medicine.
Lt. Col. Barbara Anderson, 359th Medical Group chief nurse, said most of the clinic's nursing staff are civilians.
"They provide a lot of continuity," she said.
One of those nurses, Denise Ulrich, exemplifies the civilian in military health care, but she knows the Airman's life well since she is the wife of a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. A registered nurse, she worked as a civilian at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., in the early 1990s and in 2005 at McGuire AFB, N.J., before coming to Randolph.
"It was an interest of mine to work with military people," she said. "I enjoy the whole military arena. I have lived that life."
Ms. Ulrich, a pediatric clinical nurse, dedicates some of her time to the Exceptional Family Members Program, a support group for families with special-needs children. Autism is a large part of that, she said, but the program also includes the families of children with cerebral palsy and genetic disorders.
"It's part of what I do here as a nurse," she said.
Ms. Ulrich said she is also involved in telephone nurse triage, where nurses offer advice to parents and book appointments - on the same day if necessary - and in patient education.
While civilians constitute a majority of the clinic's nurses, most of its medical technicians are Airmen, Colonel Anderson said.
Staff Sgt. Abel Padilla, a medical technician who has been stationed at Randolph for seven of his eight years in the Air Force, was undecided about a career path when he joined the service after high school.
"I was hoping the Air Force would help me find my way," he said.
The Air Force helped Sergeant Padilla quickly find his way. He was assigned to basic medical education training at Sheppard AFB, Texas, although he "had no interest in the medical field," but he soon discovered he had found his calling.
"I came to love my job," he said.
Sergeant Padilla has worked all over the clinic and now serves as an element leader, making sure the clinic's technicians are trained. He was also deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2008.
Colonel Anderson said technicians are especially needed in deployed areas.
"We are used more for our EMT skills," Sergeant Padilla said.
But it can be hazardous duty: Some are used for convoy coverage.
Colonel Anderson, who has a nursing degree and has served in the Army and Air Force for more than 20 years, said a deployment experience "is one thing that sticks with me over the years."
"I remember receiving casualties - a lot of hustle and bustle and noise - and looking up over a patient to see everyone in the room working together - no confusion, no complaining, just getting the job done and taking care of patients," she said. "What a night, and what a good feeling afterward to know that we did our very best to serve them."