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Preparing for a period of historical change

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James "Shep" Speight III
  • 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron
John W. Gardner, former head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, once said, "History never looks like history when you are living through it." I will vouch for that.

I was stationed in Germany in the 1980s when the Berlin Wall fell and when the first Persian Gulf War began. I got to be an upfront spectator to both events, but I will tell you honestly, that I did not appreciate the historical weight that these events carried or the deeper meaning that they purveyed for the U.S. military.

We are again witnessing an event of historical significance: military downsizing and fiscal tightening, similar to the events of the early 1990s. The armed services must rise to the challenge to overcome and continue to support the mission.

Downsizing should be no surprise to anyone. It has happened repeatedly in the history of the United States. Those of us who have been in the Air Force for more than 10 years have lived through a lot of history and have not always recognized it as such, but if you are surprised by the ongoing sequestration events that came to a head on March 1, then you haven't been reading your history.

It reminds me of another favorite quote from an unknown author: "Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up." What can we do about the price that has to be paid?
The best answer is that we, both as individuals and units, have to be prepared. Persistence is the key. Squadrons have to be persistent in the development of alternative means to get the desired mission result. Individuals must be persistent in their career development to get promotion results. We must all be prepared to accomplish those results in a different operational and financial environment. The landscape is changing and it's changing pretty fast. This is what history looks like.

Persistence paid off for the aeromedical evacuation community. We recently marked the 70th anniversary of the graduation of the first class of flight nurses. On Feb. 18, 1943 flight nurses marched from the base chapel after graduating from their specialized course of altitude medicine training at Bowman Field in Louisville, Ky.

In many ways, that first graduation was one of the most significant days for our career field. It put the meaning of "training" into organize, train, and equip. It marks the even more remarkable events of the year past when AE career field finally celebrated the opening of its own formal training unit at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. As the members of the first graduating class marched across the stage to receive their wings, thoughts turned to the first group of flight nurses who graduated 69 years ago.

They owe a debt to the persistence of those who said that the right thing was an AE FTU and who would not take no for an answer. Their persistence ended a decades-long pursuit for training that would be standardized across 32 AE squadrons. Those flight nurses and aeromedical technicians took their place among the long line of specialized nurses and technicians who have preceded them, both in the Air Force and at Scott AFB.

AE has changed and grown, along with the Air Force, modifying and dramatically increasing the capabilities of medical staff flying on various aircraft. Flight nursing became a core competency of the Air Force. As one of the four pillars of Air Mobility Command, AE executes AMC's mission to provide global air mobility--right effects, right place, right time.

The 375th AES continues to look for new ways to advance the AE discipline into a new, more financially frugal era which is beginning right now. It helps to know where we came from and where we fit in the global enroute patient system so we can push the boundaries through planning, research and operational aeromedical missions.

It is an exciting time to be an Airman at the 375th AES. We will be persistent in our endeavor to achieve quality training for all our Airmen. We will be tireless in our efforts to be prepared for the next mission that comes our way, whenever or wherever that may be.
We live out the promise that all Airman make, when at the end of a ceremony, the Airman's creed rings out. "We will never leave an Airman behind!"