ARLINGTON, Va. - Air Force leaders as well as the Air Force Association (AFA) defined teams and teamwork recently as a career group of Airmen from different commands working together. They call them the "Team of the Year," and this year's team includes a member of the Kansas Air National Guard.
Master Sgt. Faith Elmore from the 184th Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base was the only Guard member among seven Air Force medics that made up the AFA's Team of the Year: Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS). The Airmen represent all Air Force medical technicians who deployed worldwide in 2006.
The AFA is an independent, nonprofit, civilian education organization promoting public understanding of aerospace power and the pivotal role it plays in the security of the nation. It presents two major awards to military Airmen each year: Airman of the Year and Team of the Year.
The AFA selects an Air Force enlisted career field each year for its Team of the Year. This year, expeditionary medical support teams were selected for treating thousands of wounded, injured and sick coalition forces in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. These teams also staffed medical facilities with specialized technicians.
Team members ranged from senior Airmen to one colonel. This is the first year an officer was selected for what is normally an enlisted team. The AFA said that was due to the pivotal roles military doctors play in the success of EMEDS.
Although this particular team did not deploy together, they said they enjoyed meeting in Washington from March 31 to April 5 to celebrate their achievement.
It's not everyday you get to walk through the Pentagon and meet Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley in his office. That was one of many events the AFA coordinated for them.
"It's been a whirlwind of events, e-mails, letters and congratulations," Elmore said. "This is an experience that I will never forget."
Team members conversed and shook hands with many military, civilian and political leaders. They attended an awards dinner and toured the nation's capital while the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
Elmore has six years of active duty service and six years service in the Air Guard. In late summer 2005, she deployed for six months as part of the 447th Air Expeditionary Group, Sather Air Base, Iraq, which is inside the heavily fortified Baghdad International Airport and far from the fragrant smell of cherry blossoms.
Broken teeth, cavities and dental trauma were a few of the medical challenges Elmore encountered there. That was considerably different from her job back home where she reviewed records to make sure Airmen could be deployed. Aside from that, she only saw EMEDS during occasional stateside medical exercises and a 2001 deployment to Saudi Arabia.
"In the field we fixed anything that came up," Elmore said. She fixed broken teeth, cleaned teeth and helped stabilize people suffering from severe facial and dental trauma from explosions and enemy fire. She also taught a class in sterilization techniques, assisted the first sergeant and worked in an operating room. Other AFA team Airmen had similar deployments in their own medical specialties.
The Air Force realized during the first Gulf War that its medical processes didn't fit the irregular, shifting warfare of an expeditionary force. "Over the next 10 years the military restructured its medical corps," said AFA team member and surgeon Col. Jay Johannigman, an individual mobilization reservist assigned to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., and director of a Cincinnati trauma center. "Having just returned from Iraq, I would tell any mother or father that their sons and daughters now get care that meets or exceeds a [stateside] level-one trauma center," he said.
The EMEDS system is a pack-and-go hospital with equipment and supplies. It is designed for airlift, and it can be set up anywhere. Compared to stateside hospitals, inventory is its only limitation. Elmore said her EMEDS dental equipment is the same that is used in private practice, but more compact and transportable.
"I honestly think that military medicine has reassumed its preeminence," Johannigman said. The success of EMEDS is due in part to Air Force medial corps leadership who envisioned it and to "every last medic who is committed to [its] mission and whose families support them when they go."
Elmore will deploy to the Arctic Circle next. She said her husband, Tech. Sgt. James Elmore, and daughter, Air Force ROTC student Emily Elmore, support her completely.
"I'm participating in a humanitarian exercise," she said. The multi-service medical readiness exercise, Arctic Care 2007, is scheduled to take place in late April on Alaska's frozen tundra. After that, Elmore said she hopes to return to the EMEDS mission in sun-baked Iraq.