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2017 Year in Review: A look at inspiring individuals who help shape the MHS

Staff Sgt. Matthew Crabtree, a medic with the 285th Medical Company (Area Support) and a registered nurse, performs a medical assessment on an infant less than one month old Oct. 27, 2017, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Military medical personnel were critical to disaster response related to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. (Ohio National Guard photo by Sgt. Joanna Bradshaw) Staff Sgt. Matthew Crabtree, a medic with the 285th Medical Company (Area Support) and a registered nurse, performs a medical assessment on an infant less than one month old Oct. 27, 2017, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Military medical personnel were critical to disaster response related to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. (Ohio National Guard photo by Sgt. Joanna Bradshaw)

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Members of the Military Health System family, spread across the country and overseas, have made a mark on the MHS this year. Here are few of these influential highlights:

Veterans. They trained with infantry soldiers, carrying first aid kits instead of weapons. They dodged bullets to tend to wounded soldiers, sometimes with whatever supplies they could find. And even in the midst of thick combat, they remained steadily focused on their mission of saving lives. They were the combat medics of World War II.

Known as “band-aid bandits” to their comrades, Pfc. Edwin Pepping and Staff Sgt. Albert Mampre were attached to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division also known as the “Band of Brothers.” Seventy-three years ago, the U.S. took part in the invasion of Normandy, which would ultimately be the turning point of the war in Europe.

“A sense of humor is really what saved us,” said Pepping, who said the biggest lesson he learned as a medic was to duck. Veterans Day shed light on two more heroes of military medicine, platoon medic Charles Shay, who also hit the beach at Normandy, and Col. Pat Upah, who saw the Tet Offensive through the eyes of the combat soldiers she treated in Vietnam.

Advocates. Retired Army Gen. Carter Ham commanded a multinational brigade in Mosul during the early days of the Iraq War. “I was a brigadier general, so it wasn’t like I was out on combat patrol,” Ham said of those 13 months. Still, he witnessed the horrific aftermath of a suicide bomber’s attack on the forward operating base dining hall, which killed and wounded almost 90 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and civilian contractors. And a few months after returning to the United States, he contacted a chaplain for emotional support after finally realizing “something’s not right with me. Something’s out of whack.” Learn more about service members reaching out for emotional support (or options available to them).

Providers. Military nurses are part of a versatile group of well-trained and well-educated professional leaders who take care of the people around them, both at home and on the front lines. During National Nurses Week, the Military Health System highlighted the diverse places our nurses serve.

“Being a nurse in the military is ever-changing and you have to be willing to adapt at all times,” said Army Capt. Christine Kampas, a brigade combat team nurse who served as the lead medical adviser at a regional hospital in southern Afghanistan. “It keeps you on your toes.”

Navy Capt. Michele Kane has spent 30 years as a nurse, researcher, and inspiring leader who became the first Navy nurse to earn a Ph.D. from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Kane was a key player in executing Project SERVE (or Student’s Education Related to the Veteran Experience), which teaches nursing students how to care for wounded warriors returning to their local communities.

Brig. Gen. Theresa Prince, a civilian nurse practitioner and Air National Guard assistant to the Air Force Nurse Corps chief, is one of 9,000 nurses serving in the reserve components. “Many reserve nurses work in highly skilled jobs throughout the week and then maintain a lot of those skills [in their reserve position], so they’re truly experts in both of their jobs,” said Prince. Patients reap the benefits of these highly skilled health care professionals who bring the best of the military and civilian systems to their work.

Researchers. For more than 17 million people in the United States living with severe eczema – a condition that results in dry, itchy rashes and disqualifies many from military service – the mystery behind its cause may be all too familiar. Thanks to researchers at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and National Institutes of Health, certain eczema patients may understand more about their condition.

“Studying these … disorders, especially when we can define the disease based on a single mutation, is incredibly informative because you can learn a lot,” said Andrew Snow, assistant professor in the department of pharmacology and molecular therapeutics at USU.

First responders. U.S. Coast Guard mobile medical units assisted with hurricane relief efforts in Florida and Puerto Rico in the weeks following Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Cmdr. Donald Kuhl loaded up a truck with a trailer containing his pop-up medical clinic and bed for what would be the next few weeks in Florida. Lt. Cmdr. Jacklyn Finocchio boarded a military flight to Puerto Rico and, upon arrival, had to figure out where to report despite a lack of cellphone service. “We were just waiting for our chance to help out those we knew needed it,” said Finocchio, a Public Health Service pharmacy officer and mobile medical unit leader.

For Army Master Sgt. Dean Dawson, the opportunity to serve in hurricane relief efforts presented itself after a planned flight to Las Vegas with his wife was cancelled by the approach of Hurricane Harvey. Instead, Dawson drove 350 miles to Houston where he helped distribute food and water in the hard-hit area. 

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