Aviation medical director works from the field
June 30, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Playing a vital role in Army aviation, flight surgeons help keep aviators healthy and air-worthy.
Having the director of aviation medicine readily available at the unit's side is a great source of knowledge and a valuable asset for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division medics as they conducts aviation operations in Iraq.
It is a mutual benefit for both parties involved, said Col. Stephen Burnstein, from Enterprise, Ala.
Burnstein, a leading expert in aerospace medicine attached to the 1st ACB, has an opportunity to get away from his office where he writes regulations, sets policy and deals with new medicines, but rarely gets out.
"I like being here because I get to see more patients. In the states I don't get many opportunities to see patients, so I am having a blast taking care of folks out here," said Bernstein. "I enjoy trying to get the patients to improve their life styles and health, not just for the Army's needs, but really just for themselves. I want these Soldiers to be able to move on and live healthy lives."
With Burnstein's 20 years of experience in medicine, he gives the medics of the 1st ACB a great deal to gain from lessons learned.
"He is very knowledgeable and has been in the medical field for a long time; it is nice to have somebody with that many years or professional experience on hand," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Kolakowski, the brigade surgeon noncommissioned officer in charge for the 1st ACB. "A lot of people go to him for his extensive knowledge base, for the daily applications that he practices, so he is very useful."
Burnstein is very willing to pass along the knowledge he has learned over the years of practicing medicine.
"I have seen a lot of patients over the years, I am a family practitioner first and an aerospace medicine specialist second," said Bernstein. "Hopefully I bring that level of experience, knowledge and support with mentoring and teaching to the medics,"
"I want these guys to ask questions; it is a great way of learning and passing along knowledge, not only do they learn from me, but I will pick up things from them as well," he added.
The choice for Bernstein to deploy with the 1st ACB was not a difficult decision for him to make, especially since his boss, Col. Joe McKeon, the aerospace medicine consultant to the surgeon general of the Army, came with Air Cav last time it deployed.
"As we looked at what flight surgeons were available in the inventory that had not been with line units yet, and my name being on that list, it is kind of hard to pass your own name up, so that is how I made it out here," said Bernstein.
"It was not hard for me to decide that I wanted to come play with the Air Cav. - especially when the person I was working with came out with [the 1st ACB] last time.
Burnstein has a large amount of responsibilities as the director of aviation medicine and now, because he is deployed, extra challenges are added to his duties.
"Through the consultants for the surgeon general, we work to set the [policies], guidance, standards, regulations and training [for aviation medicine] and have impact in all those areas as well as fielding and staffing of personnel," said Bernstein.
"The challenge with being out here is I can't be as easily engaged because I am not even in the same time zone or the state, so I have to rely on my partner-in-crime to help work some of the issues," he said.
Communication and internet access are one of the major factors that hinder the director of aviation medicine's ability to smoothly complete his job.
"Being out here, a lot of my responsibilities lie in answering emails, whether it comes from the active side, reserve side or guard side. Any chance I could ask for more bandwidth and a better phone service'" Bernstein asked jokingly.
Bernstein will be deployed with the 1st ACB until his replacement finishes training. Until that time, he has no problem staying with the Air Cav Bde., which is far away from the office-space environment he is used to.
Spending his time dealing strictly with the medical side of Army aviation, it is a good learning experience to be out here and see how an aviation unit actually operates, said Bernstein.
"... the brigade has been fantastic, so I am having fun," he said.