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Airman volunteers to deploy from Maryland, save lives in Afghanistan

by Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe
451st AEW Public Affairs

2/16/2010 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- A U.S. Air Force trauma surgeon stationed at the Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills in Baltimore, Md., quickly volunteered when a trauma critical care surgeon billet at Kandahar Airfield needed to be filled immediately.

One week after raising his hand, Dr. (Maj.) Joseph DuBose, landed at Kandahar Airfield. As soon as he picked up the phone Feb. 5 to let his new unit know he'd just arrived, there wasn't even a moment to in-process. They were already anxiously awaiting his arrival. A mass casualty event had taken place, and he was needed in the emergency room right away.

"They sent someone to haul me over to the Role 3," Major DuBose said. "It was a heck of a greeting."

Eight Afghan patients had suffered major burns from a fuel tank explosion, and at first sight, the hospital seemed to be in total chaos.

"Mass casualties usually are chaotic," Major DuBose said. "But it's controlled chaos. If you saw it from the outside without knowing what was going on, you'd think it was madhouse."

In the midst of the chaos, Major DuBose walked up to Navy Capt. Chuck Blankenship, the Role 3's director of trauma, and introduced himself as the new Air Force trauma surgeon. The captain immediately put him to work.

Major DuBose said he was very impressed by how quickly and expeditiously the trauma team triaged and took care of the patients.

"It was neat," he said. "I was very proud to be a part of that."

Major DuBose is serving a 30-day tour until the arrival of a Navy surgeon who's scheduled to serve four months as the Role 3's trauma czar. Leadership created this position in anticipation of increasing casualties due to ongoing military operations in southern Afghanistan.

Captain Blankenship, who also serves as Major DuBose's commander, said he's glad the major volunteered to fill the gap.

"As we prepared for Operation Moshtarak, we thought it would be best to have an additional person here," he said.

The captain said Major DuBose's role as the trauma czar, or trauma coordinator, is to take charge of all trauma clinical responsibilities. This would help Captain Blankenship to pay more attention to administrative responsibilities and training for new inbound teams as his group prepares to rotate out of Kandahar. He's also tasked the major with suggesting ways to improve processes within the trauma center and to get everything set up for his replacement.

"Fortunately, we've not seen a huge burden of casualties since I've been here," Major DuBose said. "However, we are certainly prepared for whatever may transpire in the coming days. Ideally, from a military standpoint, the best deployment for me would be one where I'm completely bored and never see a casualty. We almost hope that we're very bored as trauma surgeons, but we also need to be ready at a moment's notice to take care of a lot of casualties and do it at a high state of care."

In Baltimore, Md., Major DuBose serves as the director of physician education of the C-STARS program and as an assistant professor of clinical surgery at the University of Maryland.

The C-STARS program allows general surgeons, or Air Force medics who have not seen much trauma during their stateside practice, to spend three weeks in Baltimore medical units where there's an opportunity to be exposed to trauma care at an intense level and high turnover rate. This training helps them prepare for trauma situations they may encounter while deployed in the theater of operations, although it's highly unlikely stateside surgeons will see devastating wounds such as those caused by improvised explosive devices.

"IED blasts are very different than the types of injuries that I or any of these surgeons see back in the states," Major DuBose said. "There are so many different organ systems that can be involved in the extreme nature of these wounds."

The Role 3 Hospital has a large Navy component partnered with medical professionals from coalition forces, including Canadians, Dutch and Germans.

"It's really fascinating to be in this environment and see how all those people from all different backgrounds work together to really provide optimal care for the coalition casualties," Major DuBose said. "This is one of the most fulfilling things you can do as a surgeon. The patient population you came for deserves the best care; and it's a very challenging environment, but I think we all appreciate what everyone is doing out on the lines, and we love taking care of them."

 

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