Capt. Larry Wheat is a general anesthesiologist, a much-needed skill set on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He is assigned to Madigan Healthcare System, which, as a hospital, does not deploy Soldiers under a single set of Colors. Before the Global War on Terror, Wheat may have spent his entire Fort Lewis tour within the confines of the Military Treatment Facility. But because of the Army Medical Department's Professional Filler System, he, like 462 other Madigan Soldiers this year, have been ordered to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan under the PROFIS program.PROFIS is only for medical Soldiers, and mostly affects doctors and commissioned nurses. The system designates qualified active Army AMEDD personnel working in non-deployable units like Madigan, and directs them to fill a unit activated to deploy. The tour length is different for every PROFIS Soldier, with most doctors and nurses going overseas for six months to a year. Wheat, for example, deployed to Baghdad with the 28th Combat Support Hospital out of Fort Bragg, N.C., two months ago, for a six-month deployment. He said that with him gone, Madigan's anesthesiology team has four certified registered nurse anesthetists deployed, with six Reservist anesthetists being activated for 90-day rotations to backfill them.Currently, Madigan has more than 100 Soldiers deployed around the world. Madigan beneficiaries may have an appointment with their primary care provider one day, and then the next, he or she has deployed to a combat support hospital in Qayyarah Airfield (West), Iraq, or a battalion aid station in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Its part of the dual mission that Madigan Soldiers must maintain: providing care to patients in the hospital and deploying Soldiers in support of PROFIS. Wheat said that even though he will be gone for six months, patients should feel comfortable knowing that their access to care and continuity of care will be sustained, no matter what clinic they are assigned. "All anesthesiologists have the same Master's degree, and they all must have proper state licenses and accreditations," he said.One clinic's experience
The Cardiology Clinic had a rough summer as two active duty cardiologists and five Family members of Cardiology staff were deployed. "People were pulling three job titles, we were constantly reassessing patient load, but we just sucked it up and did it," said Maj. (Dr.) Samara Laynor, a general cardiologist. She and Clinic Chief Lt. Col. (Dr.) Kurt Kinney have both deployed as PROFIS doctors in their careers.Laynor, a cardiologist by trade, had to broaden her skills from just the heart to the whole body, as her job in the deployed unit was to be a primary physician in a Troop Medical Clinic. Kinney deployed as a battalion surgeon with a Stryker unit during the 2007 surge in Iraq. Both enjoyed the experience to serve their country overseas. "For my military career, it was a very rewarding job - you can't place a price tag on it," Kinney said.Laynor said getting to increase her clinical knowledge was most satisfying. "Deploying makes you a much better doctor because it broadens your skills and broadens your experiences with different cultures and people," she said.There is an impact, though, on their cardiology skills when returning home. Since they aren't performing procedures on the heart while deployed, part of the clinic's reintegration plan to get a cardiologist doctor back to proficiency is to get him or her into the catheterization lab for practice and have another cardiologist oversee their operating skills for a week or two.The 41-person staff is symbolic of practically every clinic at Madigan, as many uniformed providers can be tapped to deploy through PROFIS, and other staff members, both military and civilian, have Family members deployed. Whether or not a person is deployed through PROFIS, the stress level can go up, said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Hanke, Cardiology clinic Noncommissioned officer in charge. But without PROFIS, said Maj. Dave Trowbridge, the Army couldn't maintain the level of specialized medical troops needed in the two overseas wars.To improve morale, the clinic has held team-building exercises like off-sites and barbecues, but most noticeable to the staff is a bulletin board with "Blue Star Service Banners" hanging and photos of the deployed staff and Family members displayed directly below them. The board is named the "Hurt Locker" for the recent movie and for the hurting of a loved one or team member that someone in the clinic is dealing with due to a deployment.Deploying, but not saying goodbye
Hospital Commander Col. Jerome Penner III likes to tell just about anyone that Madigan deploys Soldiers. "For too long, I believe, people still don't know (Madigan) sends Soldiers on deployments," Penner said. "Those deployed may be out of sight and out of mind, but not to us."He has made it one of his top priorities as commander to make people aware of what the Soldiers and their Family members go through when deployed. So Madigan and Troop Command leadership got to work and came up with two events that recognize the sacrifices of deploying Soldiers: quarterly deployment ceremonies and establishing the Deployed Warrior Wall.
The deployment ceremony allows PROFIS Soldiers to be recognized for accepting the call to deploy. "Short of curing cancer and finding a vaccine for AIDS, there is probably nothing greater than what (our Soldiers) do to go over there and save the lives of America's sons and daughters," said Troop Command Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Shepardson. The ceremony also informs their spouses and children that Madigan will not leave them behind. The Madigan Family Readiness Group provides Families brochures, DVDS and themselves as resources of information for when their loved one is gone. Troop Command gives the children faceless dolls so that they can put in mom or dad's picture. "Our promise is that we are going to take care of your Families so you can take care of the Soldiers out there," Penner said at a recent deployment ceremony.After the ceremony ends, a picture is taken of each deploying Soldier. That photo is then placed behind a mat that the Family can decorate, and those photo mats are placed on the now-unveiled Madigan Warrior Wall near the Department of Pediatrics.The Deployed Warrior Wall currently has photo mats displayed of 84 Madigan medical personnel. The photos are encased on a six-panel bulletin board. Eric Demorest and Ron Foltynewicz from Facilities created the intricately-crafted Warrior Wall from scratch. Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Pleshaw, Maternal Child Health NCOIC, was on the committee that designed the wall layout. He deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004 from Madigan, and is very happy that more is being done to show support for the troops than the standard yellow ribbon decals. "We want to show our Soldiers that we support them, and I can't think of a better way than this," Pleshaw said.