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PORTRAITS OF CAPITAL AIRMEN: Wounded Warrior's Return

Joint Base Andrews, Md. -- My name is Airman 1st Class Cortnee Simmers, United States Air Force. I work at the 79th Medical Wing - one of only two medical wings in the USAF. I am a medic in the Aero-Medical Staging Facility on Joint Base Andrews, Md., in the Air Force District of Washington.

The ASF is the first checkpoint on American soil for the nation's returning wounded warriors. It is a 45-bed medical facility where patients can relax and heal while enroute to their home station.

Here, I am part of a medical team that provides top-notch healthcare to returning service members. In cooperation with Air Force Medical Evacuation crews, I help to ensure safe transport for any Soldier, Seaman, Airman, or Marine who needs definitive medical treatment stateside.

From improvised explosive device blast injuries, to appendicitis, to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, to migraines and lumbago ... here at the ASF, we treat a wide scope of diagnoses. Each mission begins with a convoy of patient transport vehicles from the ASF and Walter Reed, Md., to the flight line at Joint Base Andrews.

Soon, a C-17 full of patients from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany will land here. When the tail of the plane drops, I become witness to the human impact of war. Onboard are nearly 50 patients; a quarter of them can't walk and are lying on litters, two of them breath only with a ventilator, four of them require mental health attendants.

As the nurses give report and reconcile medications, the patients who are unable to walk will be carried off the plane by ASF staff and loaded into the Ambuses (ambulatory-equipped busses).

Again and again, I am amazed at the physical and emotional resilience of our patients. Many of the men and women return home with conditions that will forever change their lives. They have lived the worst parts of war movies - the parts where I close my eyes. Yet their attitudes and demeanors remain cheerful and humorous.

One patient recently yelled "Look! A stop sign I can read - it's English! God Bless America." The front desk has Pizza Hut on speed dial, for the Soldiers who can't wait another day for stuffed crust. It's impossible to leave work without laughing out loud.

I've seen dozens of crinkled and folded photographs from the breast pockets of proud fathers and husbands. Of course, each photo comes with an animated narrative about its subject. But it's not always light-hearted conversation here.

I remember a mission when three soldiers from the same unit passed through the ASF. They became patients after their Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle had rolled over in an improvised explosive devise blast and exploded in flames. They had significant burn injuries, broken bones, extensive bruises and scrapes. These guys were the lucky ones. There had been five people in the MRAP that day.

While cleaning and redressing his wounds, one man recounted how his burns got to be so severe. He remembered rushing back into the flames to save a friend - a brave yet failed action. He passed me an article about the young man who didn't make it to the ASF.

My part of the AFDW mission is to care for the nation's returning wounded warriors. I help welcome, care for, and comfort the bravest of any patients the United States has to offer together with doctors, nurses, service liaisons, Red Cross volunteers and other medical technicians.

This is my mission. My name is Airman 1st Class Cortnee Simmers, 79th Medical Wing, USAF.