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Pep talks and Pepto-Bismol: Reserve Citizen Airmen care for cadets

Master Sgt. Robert Cain works the sick call line

Master Sgt. Robert Cain, health services management administrator, 914th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York, works the sick call line at the medical triage tent at Jack’s Valley Training Complex during Air Force Academy Basic Cadet Training. (1st Lt. Rachel N. Ingram).

Capt. Nikkie Cossette, a clinical nurse with the 452nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron

Capt. Nikkie Cossette, a clinical nurse with the 452nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, California, offers a moment of encouragement to a freshman cadet before she departs the field medical clinic. (1st Lt. Rachel N. Ingram).

Staff Sgt. Jessica Lang, front, and Senior Airman Erica Wyeth

Staff Sgt. Jessica Lang, front, and Senior Airman Erica Wyeth, both aerospace medical technicians with the 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, watch closely for signs of injury or distress as Air Force Academy cadets participate in a leadership-focused obstacle course. (1st Lt. Rachel N. Ingram).

Each year, Reserve Citizen Airmen from across the country migrate to Jack’s Valley Training Complex, located on a remote section of the U.S. Air Force Academy campus in Colorado, to support the next generation of Air Force leaders.

Nearly 1,000 cadets join the Air Force officer ranks annually through commissioning at the Academy. Before graduation day arrives, however, they must go through Basic Cadet Training, which culminates in a 10-day field event at Jack’s Valley.

During Basic Cadet Training for the class of 2023, more than 1,100 first-year cadets honed their combat skills, slept in tents and completed seven strenuous courses focused on confidence, teamwork and leadership.

Throughout the training, some of the cadets experienced minor injuries and ailments, like bone and joint problems, muscle spasms, dehydration, blisters, and breathing difficulties. These injuries and ailments had the potential to take a cadet out of the field and into an emergency room lobby, sacrificing valuable training time.

To ease the burden on the Academy clinic and maximize training time, Academy personnel established field medical facilities to meet the cadets where they were, said Maj. Michael Brunson, medical director, cadet medicine.

“This mission has to happen,” Brunson said, “and we can’t do it without Reserve units coming to support us for these two weeks.”

About 120 Reservists from 10 units traveled to Jack’s Valley this year to operate a variety of field medical facilities, including separate tents for orthopedics, optometry, a pharmacy, sports medicine and more, during the field training portion of Basic Cadet Training.

“The clinic we are running out here mimics the environment we deploy to, so the experience is very beneficial, especially for Reserve medical technicians who may not practice medicine in the civilian world,” said Col. Joseph Lawlor, chief of aerospace medicine, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

A traditional Reservist, Lawlor practices family medicine in the civilian sector and worked 12-hour shifts at Jack’s Valley to accommodate about 60 patients per day in the field clinic alone.

“Field medicine is very different from doing an IV in a clinic or emergency room,” he said. “As military medical professionals, we need to be able to do our jobs regardless of the environment.”

The field medical facilities at Jack’s Valley met the needs of the Academy cadets, night and day, while simultaneously satisfying training requirements for the Reserve squadrons.

“It can be challenging to create a simulated field environment at home station just for training purposes,” said Master Sgt. Robert Cain, health services management administrator for the 914th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York. “But out here in Jack’s Valley, we can practice more aspects of the job.”

Inside the medical tents, military medical professionals from different squadrons collaborated to provide the best care possible, despite never training together before.

Capt. Nikkie Cossette, a clinical nurse with the 452nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, California, returned from an overseas deployment earlier this year.

“I noticed right away that the majority of the people working here in the clinic were Reservists, but we could all work together because we train consistently,” she said. “This specific type of field training aligns very closely with our mission as an aeromedical staging squadron.”

At Jack’s Valley, required training extended beyond simulation and checklists. It held real meaning for the Reserve Citizen Airmen charged with the responsibility of responding to acute medical needs.

“During other annual tours, you might just do scenario-based or block training, but here at Basic Cadet Training, there are real people who truly need help, and they are looking to us to help them,” said Senior Airman Erica Wyeth, an aerospace medical technician from the 445th AMS.

Each injured or sick cadet was treated with respect, care and compassion.

“It’s not just about the medical care,” Cossette said. “We are giving cadets that Airman-to-Airman support. We’re here to patch you up, give you a pep talk and get you back out there.”

Cossette’s squadron has sent Citizen Airmen to Jack’s Valley the past three years and Wyeth’s squadron, the past two. Next year, you can bet that more Reserve Citizen Airmen will show up once again, happy to help in any way they can.

“If the Reserve components didn’t come to support us and our field medical facilities, it would be mission failure,” Brunson said.   #ReserveResilient #ReserveReady

(Ingram is assigned to the 445th Airlift Wing public affairs office.)

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