JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - After getting a rotor-washed view of a full-scaled demonstration of a battlefield air medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), they sprang up into the helicopter cockpit, one by one, eagerly posing behind the controls at the pilot's seat.
It's a unique perspective U.S. Army leaders believe these 10 community partners, who represent the nation's leading medical organizations and prominent universities, will take with them to raise awareness of Army Medicine capabilities and potentially open more doors for Army medical recruiters.
The demonstration, performed here on MacArthur Parade Field Jan. 4, was part of the Army Medicine Experience, held Jan. 4 - 5 in conjunction with events surrounding the 2018 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, played Jan. 6 at the Alamodome in downtown San Antonio.
It's an experience that proved to be an eye-opening lesson for community partners, especially for first-time visitors to a military installation, in that it revealed more about how little they previously knew about this aspect of the Army.
"My perception of Army Medicine was ill-informed," admitted Dr. Wanda Filer, board chair and past president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "I didn't understand the opportunities. I didn't understand the camaraderie and level of excellence that I've gleaned over these last few days. I'm going to tell the world that Army Medicine is world-class, and their innovations have changed American healthcare across centuries."
Those are welcomed words to leaders like Lt. Gen. Nadja West, U.S. Army Surgeon General and commander of U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), who hosted the diverse group, which also included Dr. Nadim Baba, president of the American College of Prosthodontists; Benny Belvin, associate director of Career Services at Harvard University; Dr. Joseph Crowley, president of the American Dental Association; Dr. Brett Ferguson, president of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons; Dr. Judith Fisch, member of the American Dental Association Trustee Board; Dr. Ginger Fisher, Western Region's member of the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions; Dr. Paul Kivela, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians; Grizelda McClelland, assistant dean and director of the Pre-Health Program, College of Arts and Sciences at Washington University, St. Louis; and Dr. Bruce Weiner, president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
"Army Medicine is the nation's gold standard for synchronized garrison care and for sustained expeditionary healthcare," said West, addressing the group during the opening-day breakfast. "There's no one really on the face of the earth who can do both and integrate both the way we do in Army Medicine.
"We rely on our civilian (educational) institutions and our professional associations such as those you represent here today. You train, you educate, and you set the professional standards to which we hold our medical professionals and our training centers."
This marks the sixth year U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) and U.S. Army Medical Recruiting Brigade (MRB) leaders have orchestrated the Army Medicine Experience and the fourth as part of the All-American Bowl. The aim is simple - expose influential members of the civilian medical community to the highly-trained military professionals who make up AMEDD and showcase the myriad of capabilities they use in support of Army warfighters, explained Lt. Col. Jeff Reibestein, MRB executive officer.
West appealed directly to community partners, confident they would be onboard after getting this first-hand experience. "That's our purpose today - to make sure that we provide that perspective of what the Army does for our nation from the Army Medicine point of view," she said. "So, once you've seen Army Medicine in action, we hope that you will partner with us and become advocates for a career in Army Medicine in your universities, your professional associations, your organizations, and in your communities."
With pyro explosions and colored smoke billowing across the parade field as the MEDEVAC chopper swooped in near the forward surgical team's mobile facility, the demonstration did more than make a visual splash. It displayed the wide-ranging skills and coordination that is the hallmark of Army Medicine.
"It's amazing," said Belvin, who found the camaraderie fostered in the military to be as equally relevant as the potential as a medical career. "There's a lot of (career) opportunities and options.
"I think students at my institution aren't aware of what's available (in Army Medicine). So, whether you are a physician, a veterinarian, or a researcher or even a specialist in emergency medicine, there are a lot of paths you can choose to go into," he realized.
Besides the demonstration, community partners toured Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), and the AMEDD Museum, where they peppered staff and subject-matter experts with questions. While planners definitely intended to tout the Army's cutting-edge medical technology and treatment facilities, Reibestein said the human element is at the core of the experience. He stressed the importance of fostering a connection between community partners and the AMEDD professionals behind the hospital scrubs.
"These folks are dedicated to their patients; they are dedicated to the reason we all go into healthcare," said Filer, a practicing family physician for more than 25 years. "I can't imagine a nobler career ... What I've seen over these last two days has been inspiring. It's been reaffirming about my country, about the level of commitment and professionalism of the Army Medical Corps."
Community partners participated in panel discussions with various AMEDD medical officers with varying levels of experience, who spoke about their personal journeys from civilians to military medical professionals. They also heard from Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Keith, a former CFI patient who lost a limb following a motorcycle accident but continues to serve on active duty, now as a cadre member at the AMEDD Center and School.
If the response from community partners is any indicator, MRB leaders can say the Medical Experience continues to hit its mark. Ferguson, an educator for over 30 years and current director of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Graduate Training Program at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, said, "I have 18 residents under me, and I would have no problem advocating for the Army as a profession that I would like my residents to go into."