Operating as a team
By Airman 1st Class Jessica H. Evans, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 12, 2015
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- For the second time this year, Mountain Home AFB hosted an exercise known as Gunfighter Flag. It keeps airmen on their toes and ready for whatever real-world scenarios may come their way.
Gunfighter Flag doesn't just keep the Mountain Home airmen ready, but also allows them to practice total force integration. The base often has different military branches participating in the exercise, but the importance of the partnership seems to get lost in the excitement of all the high-tempo training, when in reality it's just as important.
A small surgical team designed for limited abilities made up of guardsmen and active duty members demonstrated the importance of teamwork in life or death situations.
"We're guardsmen, so this is what we do in our civilian outfits," said Maj. Cynthia Parent, 141st Medical Group nurse anesthetist from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. "But part of what we are not used to is safety issues in the field, helicopter training, hoisting [and] limited resources."
The Fairchild surgical team is one of less than six left in the entire Air National Guard due to manning constraints and has been unable to achieve much needed hands-on training, explained Capt. Amanda Roby, 141st MDG operating room nurse.
Maj. Matthew Smith, 366th Medical Group nurse anesthetist, saw this exercise as an opportunity to help his Guard counterparts.
"There's different scenarios, different ideas [and] different thoughts that you're not used to thinking about, so that's where I figured I could help ... give them some information of things I've learned," Smith said, "Maybe get the wheels turning in a little bit of a different direction for them."
After deploying multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan, Smith knows first-hand the types of situations the team will likely encounter in the Middle East.
In their day-to-day lives as civilians, guardsmen are used to having everything at their fingertips with no fear of running out of supplies or having to deal with outside threats. The exercise, however, forced them to think about a broad variety of things away from their usual safety net.
"It's a limited number of resources we carry with us in backpacks that we have for the field setting, so once those resources are depleted then we no longer would have the capability of taking care of other surgical patients until we are resupplied," Roby said. "Major Smith has actually performed in this role to a greater degree on active duty so he's been a liaison for us ... trying to implement our team in training."
Parent explained resources and supplies aren't all they have to consider; location, surrounding chaos and likely injuries all come in to play with every decision being made.
"If it was easy just to throw ourselves in there we probably wouldn't need a whole lot of exercises, but there are so many other constituents that have to play along to enable us to do our job," she said. "[In] our civilian world those are things we don't ever think about during the day because it's all there, no one's dropping a bomb on the hospital or anything like that."
While this partnership and training may seem vital to the Guard surgical team only, it's just as necessary to the active duty members.
"Those nurses are probably better equipped because they see patients in their civilian job everyday as opposed to active duty," Smith said. "Some active duty flight nurses sit in an office during the day and then do patient care only a little bit, so there's a difference."
Roby explained their active duty counterparts can help with military infrastructure and tactical aspects whereas the guardsmen can use their work experience to assist with 'nitty gritty' aspects such as patient care.
"I think it's definitely good to see both sides of things because all the different experiences everyone brings to the table," she said. "Everybody has something different to contribute."
Along with learning from one another, both the guardsmen and active duty members think working together is necessary for the military. Smith, who was Guard prior to becoming active duty, is quick to shut down the negative stigma attached to Guard and Reserve units.
"Every time you're out there - even from the Guard perspective - when you get mobilized, when you're tasked to do a mission, you're on active duty," Smith said. "So, I think it's good to play with them because when you deploy you're working with them, and a lot of times you may not know who is who unless somebody says so."
He believes training together helps facilitate a united working environment.
"Working together, playing together ... you're going to deploy together, that's just how it is," he said.
Going forward the guardsmen hope to continue building a cohesive partnership.
"[I'm] hoping that we can come again and continue to enhance that relationship," Roby said. "The more we can do, the more we can understand each other and utilize the assets that we have and keep everything relevant."
For an inside look at the surgical team partnership take a look at the video below by Airman 1st Class Chelsie Taddonio.