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WRNMMC Celebrates Air Force’s 70th Birthday


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communication

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Jeffrey A. Bailey, director of surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, enlisted in the Air Force in 1976, influenced by “the generation that fought the Second World War before the U.S. Air Force was born [Sept. 18, 1947].”
Air Force Maj. Kerrie Sanders, service chief for the Inpatient Warrior and Family Liaison Office at WRNMMC, joined the Air Force nine years ago at the age of 40. “I had always wanted to join the Air Force since I was in high school.  As life goes, sometimes what you aspire doesn't happen right away, but eventually it will,” she said.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Chambers, medical technician and flight chief for the Air Force Element at WRNMMC, said like Bailey, she was influenced by others who served in uniform to join the Air Force. “I followed in my dad's footsteps and joined the Air Force. The military lifestyle was all I knew growing up,” she explained.
Bailey, Sanders and Chambers are among a number of Airmen who serve in various roles at Walter Reed Bethesda, caring for the nation’s heroes – wounded, injured and ill warriors and their families. Many of those Airmen were on hand Sept. 14 for an early celebration of the U.S. Air Force’s 70th birthday during a cake-cutting ceremony in the rotunda of the historic Tower at the medical center.
Navy Capt. (Dr.) Mark A. Kobelja, WRNMMC director, said Airmen who serve at the medical center may be small in numbers relative to the Army’s and Navy’s presence, “but [the Air Force] punches way above [its] weight. The type of work we do day-to-day, and not just in direct health care, but in leadership, transformation, education [and other areas], we couldn’t do any of it without you.”
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Nathaniel M. Perry Jr., command chief master sergeant of the 11th Wing and Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, served as guest speaker during the Walter Reed Bethesda celebration of the Air Force’s 70th birthday. He said since the U.S. Air Force’s official founding on Sept. 18, 1947, it has become “the largest, most technologically advanced and dominant Air Force in the world.” He added it took the hard work, dedication and sacrifices of those Airmen who wore the uniform past and present for the Air Force to get at this state, and every day the WRNMMC staff has the privilege of taking care of these heroes. “Every day you’re in the room with heroes with remarkable stories of how they shaped our great Air Force,” he said.
Perry added many of those Airmen don’t see themselves as heroes. “They simply saw what they did as ‘just doing their jobs, doing what they had to do, serving…being good Americans.’ They paved the way for our Air Force being what it is today. Their inspiration continues to drive us.
“We are the greatest Air Force in the world because we are, and we serve with great Americans,” Perry furthered. “We stand on the shoulders of giants, some of whom you treat here at Walter Reed. They are our history. They are our heritage. They taught us what it means to have character, understand duty, and simply do our best, [and] to go home proud,” he concluded.
Breaking Barriers Since 1947
Air Force Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Mark A. Ediger, the 22nd Surgeon General of the Air Force, also spoke at the celebration. He agreed today’s Air Force is built on the shoulders of those who have previously served in uniform.  He explained this year’s theme for the 70thh year of the Air Force is “Breaking Barriers Since 1947.” He said 1st Lt. Reba Whittle and 2nd Lt. Abbie Sweetwine are two Airmen who broke barriers.
Whittle, who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces, a predecessor to today’s U.S. Air Force, was a flight nurse during World War II. She was the only American military female prisoner of war in the European Theater during the war after her casualty evacuation aircraft was shot down in September 1944. She was eventually repatriated, leaving Stalag IX-C on Jan. 25, 1945. She received the Purple Heart and Air Medal in 1945, and was treated at Walter Reed Hospital before her “relief from active duty not by reason of physical disability” on Jan. 13, 1946. She died of cancer on Jan. 26, 1981.
Ediger explained that Sweetwine, while serving in Britain as a young Air Force nurse in 1952, strode through the victims of a train wreck on a platform in a London suburb, assessing injuries, providing care and marking the injured with her lipstick –“X” for treated or “M” for morphine.  Because of those actions, she is credited with introducing on-scene initial care and triage in a mass casualty scenario to the United Kingdom, the general stated.
“The other thing in regards to breaking barriers concerning Sweetwine is she was one of only a handful of African-American women serving in the U.S. Air Force in 1952,” Ediger continued. Sweetwine was the only African-American in the U.S. unit in Britain, and was dubbed “The Angel of Platform 6” for her actions following the U.K. train wreck. She retired as an Air Force major and died at the age of 87 in 2009.
“We continue to break barriers today,” Ediger added. He explained barriers broken today include those in military health care that allow the advances in medical care, such as those made at WRNMMC, to  be taken to the field and other operational environments to save lives.
“We work as a team in the military health system, and as Airmen, we are proud to be a part of that team,” the Air Force surgeon general concluded.
Perry and Ediger were joined by Airman 1st Class Mansaroop Kang, an aerospace medical technician in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at WRNMMC, to cut the Air Force birthday cake at the medical center’s celebration. “It is important to celebrate the U.S. Air Force birthday because it represents the air and cyber power that help protect our world, nation, and our freedom,” said the young Walter Reed Bethesda Airman.
“I enlisted in the Air Force to further my education and travel the world, but my most rewarding experience has been being able to help individuals heal and return to their everyday lives,” Kang added.
Her sentiments are shared by other Airmen who serve at WRNMMC.
“My most rewarding experience has been taking care of our brothers and sisters in arms,” said Sanders.  “This group of people inspire me to do my very best to ensure they can return to their very best.”
Air Force Capt. Robert M. Stanley, a critical care nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at WRNMMC, said his most rewarding experience as an Airman has been deploying to Afghanistan. “It can be easy to feel detached from the mission during daily, stateside operations.  Serving downrange helped me to understand how my supportive role affects the bigger mission.”
He added it’s important to celebrate the Air Force birthday for a shared spirit of comradeship, enthusiasm, and devotion to a cause. “Esprit de corps is critical for motivation and morale, especially during a time of hardship and contingency as what we are experiencing. Being in the military is a labor of love, and it is important that we take time to remember why we do what we do.”
Chamber agreed, adding, “I have had several rewarding experiences [in the Air Force], but my biggest contribution is to have been able to take care of the wounded, ill, and injured and provide support to their families.”
Senior Airman Victoria Harris, also a medical technician in the MICU at WRNMMC, explained growing up with a sense of service to others was influential in her decision to join the Air Force on 2014.
“I joined the Air Force because I felt that it was a good fit for me being that my mom was police officer and my father was a firefighter. I grew up in a military town and wanted to do the honor of serving my country,” Harris stated.
She said celebrating the Air Force birthday is important for remembering and reflecting on its heritage and how the United States became the air power it is today. “It's nice to have a day when we take the time to remember all the hard work that people put in to be able to be the branch we are,” stated the senior airman.