PONCE, Puerto Rico - When it comes to children's health, a parent will do almost anything for their child. Parents always ask themselves, "Who can I trust with my child's medical care?"
One such medical professional who has earned his patients' trust is Staff Sgt. Matthew Crabtree, a health care specialist with the Ohio National Guard's 285th Medical Company (Area Support,) who has been deployed to Puerto Rico providing medical care to citizens impacted by Hurricane Maria.
Crabtree, who lives and works in Dayton, Ohio, is more than just a National Guard Citizen-Soldier. He is a father, husband and also an assistant nurse manager in the emergency department at Dayton Children's Hospital. And with more than 11 years in the Ohio National Guard, Crabtree has a vast amount of real-world experience, which helped prepare him for the relief mission in Puerto Rico.
In 2009, he deployed to Iraq for one year as a line medic for Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 107th Cavalry Regiment. Because of his role as a line medic, at just age 24, he was responsible for 30 cavalry scouts (some just 18 and 19 years old) who were running missions six days a week.
"I was their only medical asset," Crabtree said. "I was responsible for knowing their medications, knowing their allergies and providing day-to-day care while we were out."
Crabtree answered the call to duty again in 2012, when he deployed to Afghanistan on an Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) rotation that provided medical training to Hungarians. Those Hungarians would then train Afghan soldiers in medical tasks and procedures.
Between these two missions, his military medical skills were enhanced while attending Wright State University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in nursing in 2011.
Fast forward to 2017, when Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Crabtree volunteered to deploy with the 285th Medical Company (Area Support), yet again, answering the nation's call for help. In addition to his medical duties at the Federal Medical Stations in Ponce and Manati, Crabtree, now 33, also was responsible for the scheduling and organization of a 28-Soldier platoon capable of treating between two dozen and 200 patients in one day.
In Puerto Rico, he was accountable for every piece of equipment brought by the 285th that was used to treat patients. He also acted as a trusted resource, often instructing other medics in their skills and applications
"He leads by example. He shows us what he wants instead of just telling us what he wants us to do," said Spc. Joel Schmelzer, a fellow medic with the unit. "Sergeants are always supposed to put their Soldiers first, but he really lives up that motto."
Schmelzer and his fellow Soldiers are equally impressed by Crabtree's talent with children as they are by his leadership skills.
"I finally got to see him work with kids the other day and he was absolutely fantastic," said Sgt. First Class Dustin Hartman, the acting first sergeant of the 285th. "Not only did he have little tricks and things to make the kids cooperate, you could see he genuinely cares about children."
Crabtree had the opportunity to treat children on several different outreach missions in the mountains surrounding Ponce. On these types of missions, medical professionals would bring supplies and provide medical assessments to citizens who could not travel to hospitals.
"I loved that, (the outreach missions)," Crabtree said. "The biggest struggle for me is I don't always get to be the medic in the room working on patients all the time. That's why I joined (the Army), to be the medic that got to treat people. So, to be out on those missions was like when I first joined. I felt like a line medic again."
Whether he is a medic in the mountains of Puerto Rico or a nurse in the emergency room back home in Dayton, Crabtree is an example to others. One health care specialist in his platoon, Spc. Will Mauntler, is a firefighter-EMT in his civilian life and has delivered patients to Crabtree's emergency room.
"I've seen him interact with his civilian employees and you can really tell that he does a fantastic job leading them," Mauntler said. "I wish there were more Staff Sgt. Crabtrees."
Crabtree is able to focus on the mission because of the unwavering support of his Family, specifically his wife Kaitlyn, who is a counselor at Kettering Medical Center and volunteers with the 285th Medical Company Family Readiness Group, and his 16-month old daughter, Margo.
"I can't imagine how hard it is for my wife at home. I couldn't do what she's doing," Crabtree said. "She's very proud of me. She sends texts about that all the time."
Crabtree's life is a successful integration of his civilian and military responsibilities. He embodies all of the organizational values of the Ohio National Guard, especially Service, Integrity, Reliability, Teamwork and Inclusion.
"Staff Sgt. Crabtree is an outstanding leader," said Spc. Tarrah Berg, a Soldier in his platoon. "After completing paramedic school, he helped me get a job at Dayton Children's Hospital. He goes above and beyond in his duties and is a great mentor to our junior-enlisted individuals."
Added Hartman: "He embodies the Army values, which contributes to him as a person outside of the military. He lives those values in and out of uniform."
Whether his uniform is camouflage pattern or hospital scrubs, Crabtree's medical proficiency and dedication to helping others is apparent. During the 285th's time serving in Puerto Rico, Crabtree and more than 50 other health care professionals from the unit were able to treat more than 2,000 patients. Not only parents, but all citizens needing treatment could rest assured that they were in capable hands with Staff Sgt. Crabtree and the men and women of the 285th.