War on Terrorism

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Once a Medic, Always a Medic

By Army Sgt. Neil Gussman
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 30, 2009 - For a flight medic here, notice of a medical evacuation mission starts the wheels turning in her mind, but then instinct takes over. "I am never nervous on the flight out," Army Staff Sgt. Cynthia Dalton said. "I go over every possible scenario in my mind. But when we touch down, I just go."

Dalton, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Brigade -- part of Task Force Keystone -- said her first rescue mission in Iraq was the hardest. It was a vehicle rollover in bad weather. One soldier was dead at the scene, and two more were badly injured. She and the other medics at the scene treated the soldiers as best they could and then loaded them on their Black Hawk helicopters for transport to the nearest emergency medical facility.

"Both soldiers made it," she said. "But after a mission like that, I am really hard on myself. I can see why people burn out. I go over everything I could possibly have done differently. We did our jobs, but it always seems like there is something I could have done different or better."

Dalton, a daughter of military parents who hails from Orwigsburg, Pa., said she knew from an early age she wanted to help soldiers, but tried various jobs before finding a career path that was right for her.

"I joined the Army at 17 when I was a junior in high school," she said. "I went to basic training between my junior and senior years, and started training to be a medic right after high school."

While serving in the Army Reserve, Dalton got additional medical training as a civilian and worked for a nursing agency. She was serving as a reservist in Germany on Sept. 11, 2001, and was activated there, serving in a medical support unit and helping soldiers prepare for deployment to the Middle East.

"I did literally hundreds of immunizations every day," she said. When she returned to the United States, she switched to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to take advantage of the education benefits.

After getting soldiers ready for deployment at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, Dalton spent the three years leading up to her current deployment helping National Guard soldiers return to civilian life.

"I love helping soldiers," she said. "Soldiers come back from deployment needing many kinds of help to reintegrate into civilian life. The Guard has the help available. I make sure they can get access to the right resources."

In preparation for deployment to Iraq, Dalton trained as a flight medic. She has worked with two medical evacuation companies during the deployment, including an Oregon-based unit during training in Oklahoma and Kuwait. She is currently serving with an Alaska-based active Army medevac unit. Dalton works a 48-hour cycle, sleeping and eating at the hangar while waiting for medevac calls.

When she returns to the United States, Dalton said, she plans to take a full-time job as the medical sergeant for the Pennsylvania National Guard's 55th Brigade in Scranton. "That will be the end of flying for a while," she said. "I am sure I will miss it."

(Army Sgt. Neil Gussman serves with the 28th Combat Aviation Battalion.)

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