DVIDS – News – Air Force medic wins recognition as 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year after heroism in Kenya

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – As the sole aerospace medicine technician of a three-person medical team deployed to Manda Bay-Camp Simba, Kenya, Master Sgt. Colleen Mitchell found herself trying to wind down on a Sunday watching TV at the morale, wellness and readiness center at 5 a.m.

In any other setting, the guilty pleasure pajamas and entertainment might be seen as somewhat mundane – except this time, at the quiet seaside base near the Somali border, multiple mortar attacks, followed by gunfire. small arms, would interrupt Mitchell’s show.

In support of Operation Octave Shield in October 2019, Mitchell embarked on her first and only deployment as an Aerospace Medical Technician from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

On January 5, 2020, Mitchell faced a monumental challenge to stay safe and save lives following attacks by Al-Shabaab militants on the camp and its geographically separated airfield. The raid began with a rocket-propelled grenade attack on an American surveillance plane, an event that claimed the lives of two American contractors. In addition, a US Army soldier was killed in a subsequent shootout.

The mass casualty event would ultimately result in the loss of three American lives and the destruction of several planes.

Mitchell is currently a member of the Air Force District of Washington Air Force Element at Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Maryland. His quick-wittedness, courage and commitment on that fateful day rightly earned him a coveted place in the Air Force Department’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year program.

This is not an exercise

“I heard the first mortar and thought it was some kind of exercise,” Mitchell said.

After all, it was not unusual for the host nation and mission partners to use live fire and controlled detonations near the location. “When I hear stories of other attacks, I always have the impression that everyone knows right away that an attack is happening and that it is just ‘police posts. fight, everyone ‘, without needing to talk about it. ”

But this time it was different, Mitchell realized. It was not an exercise. She rushed to the based defense operations center to set up another casualty collection point. And although the CCP was equipped with bedding, items such as controlled drugs, automated equipment, and “take-out bags” for trauma had to be transported from a medical device about fifteen meters – a distance. which may as well be light years away in terms of direct and indirect fire exposure.

“I wasn’t panicking about what to do,” Mitchell said. “I knew what I needed, where it was going to go and what it should look like, which was more heartwarming than you might think.”

The hours following the attack would become a melting pot for the team, who began triage and processing from several locations between the camp and the airfield amid an increase in casualties and injuries with a sweltering and rising heat of 90 degrees.

Team Leader and Physician Assistant Major Stephan Kesterson provided Embassy partners and East Africa Component Command Networks with information on patients with bilateral burns, injuries by shrapnel, shock and fatigue. As they awaited the arrival of additional supplies and reinforcements, the value of time and teamwork could not be understated.

“With the airfield under attack, we knew we were alone,” recalls Mitchell. Soon more medical means arrived to initiate care, followed by firefighters Mitchell had previously trained as medical support, ready to help.

Prior to Kesterson’s departure for the airfield for further casualty assessment, Mitchell facilitated direct teleconsultation with US burn specialists and intra-theater medical colleagues; a key element in the management of a seriously injured person in an austere place.
The ordeal lasted for hours, with dizzying efforts to intercept five more injured and stabilize patients from the low light from dawn until evening and late hours.

The camaraderie that Mitchell, from Tampa, Florida, developed downstream was the result of networking and after-hours beach activities with other deployed staff. traffic orders at the height of the COVID-19 virus crisis that began in 2020.

“It was probably one of the best experiences I have had in terms of the provider-patient relationship because we’ve all come to know each other so well,” Mitchell said. “The attack highlighted our strengths and exposed our weaknesses, forcing us to reassess our medical capabilities, and this upbeat fighting pace reverberated throughout the camp, creating ongoing training and the arrival of additional personnel afterwards. the attack.”

Kesterson, then deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, now deputy chief of medical readiness training and doctrine at the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, said he could attest to the value of early communication and confidence building, as it served his little but adept team well during the crisis.

Kesterson maintains that Mitchell is a prime example of the type of agile aviator the Air Force seeks to recruit, train and retain to serve in its multi-purpose air and space operations.

“Ability and willingness are two parts of readiness – and Sergeant Mitchell is the definition of a medic ready,” Kesterson said. “She was instrumental in the success of our team throughout the deployment by assessing and treating a number of non-combat related illnesses and injuries, support for military working dogs, unrelated trauma care combat and trauma and surgical assistance from the host country. ”

Kesterson noted that Mitchell also institutionalized the Defense Health Agency’s Tactical Combat Casualty Care All Service Members course early in their deployment to establish, equip and equip their camp for basic rescue responses.

Still committed to the life-changing experiences, the two still remain in close contact, and Kesterson said he sent a congratulatory text after learning of his selection to OAY.

“Sergeant Mitchell has been supporting me from day one,” Kesterson said. “This deployment has changed our lives and I am proud to learn of its selection for such a prestigious award, because it is well deserved. “

Mitchell said she fully understood the gravity of the 12 OAY award during a surprise ceremony at the Defense Health Agency in Falls Church, Va., Where her local leaders and Major General Ricky N. Rupp, former commander of the ‘AFDW, have personally brought the news of her. nomination and selection by the estimated dozen.

“I passed out; I didn’t know it was going to happen,” she said. “They were so proud of me, and they must have said it several times before it happened.”

As she now considers applying for the Air Force Nursing Commissioning Program, as she continues her college education as a part-time student, Mitchell reflected on what propelled her towards success then and will in the future.

“I remembered the importance of the team,” said Mitchell. “From the moment I arrived at the camp, I was never alone – we practiced, laughed and cried with each other. “

The Air Force Personnel Center reported that a selection board examined 35 candidates who represented major commands, direct reporting units, field operational agencies and Air Force headquarters. The board selected the 12 Airmen based on their superior leadership, job performance and personal accomplishments. Winners are permitted to wear the Outstanding Pilot of the Year badge for one year from the date of official presentation.

The Air Force 12 OAY Presentation Ceremony takes place at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space, and Cyber ​​Conference on September 20, 2021.

Date taken: 14.09.2021
Date posted: 28.09.2021 15:54
Story ID: 406227
Site: WASHINGTON, DC, United States
Hometown: TAMPA, Florida, United States

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