Medical commander lists anchors of leadership

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Lisa Schmidt
  • Commander, 42nd Medical Operations Squadron
With just a little over 20 years in the Air Force, I recently had an incredible opportunity to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As the 455th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron Commander at Bagram Airfield, I was responsible for the Emergency Department, Operating Room, Inpatient Units, Outpatient and Dental Clinics, Public Health, Bioenvironmental Engineering, and Flight Medicine. 

Most days brought in those wounded by the horrific injuries from war. Many were injured from Improvised Explosive Devises, land mines and gunshot wounds. Our surgeons, nurses and technicians were always ready for the next "Dustoff" chopper to arrive with up to six wounded at a time. In the midst of organized chaos they would swiftly evaluate and treat these members, sometimes beginning surgery in the emergency room. In spite of the severity of injuries, there was an amazing 96 percent survival rate for any American who arrived at our trauma hospital during the height of the war. Those who did not survive were grieved. 

One particular incident stands out in my mind that illustrates the awesome responsibility the men and women of my unit had. It was a hot, summer afternoon when an Army soldier arrived from an IED blast. The trauma staff had awaited his arrival from the chopper, met him as he came through the doors and quickly continued the resuscitation measures that began in the field. I stood at the foot of the gurney with his battle buddy beside me as they emergently cracked his chest open trying to save this young man's life. Despite their valiant efforts, they were unable to save him. His loss was one of the hardest we experienced; there wasn't a dry eye in the emergency room. 

Reflecting on that day reminds me of the many lessons I have learned throughout my life and my career. Although these lessons are based on my deployment, they can be applied to leaders in any job. They are very simple, but can serve as anchors in our lives. 

Faith. Belief in something much greater than ourselves is critical to grounding us in our day to day operations and relationships. There is strength, comfort and relief knowing that He will not give us more than we can bear. He will guide us and give us peace through difficult decisions we make. 

Family. Family and friends provide a social support system. Communication, caring and sharing needs to start long before a deployment to provide a secure foundation during the time you are apart. With a solid relationship, you are able to support each other even with many miles between you. No matter how tough a day at work can be, family and friends will always be there for you. 

Fitness. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle to include exercising, nutrition (moderation in fats, sugars, alcohol), stress management and not smoking ensure we are able to function at peak performance. During busy times, it is easy to overlook or neglect taking care of ourselves, but it is necessary to take care of our people. It is also just as important to be a role model for these behaviors. 

Training. The importance of training cannot be overstated. We need to train like we fight, and when we are at the fight, we need to ensure we complete our job like we trained. It is easy to take short cuts when you do not have an inspection team evaluating performance, but it can make the difference in a person living or dying or whether we win the war or not. 

Teamwork. Finally, no one person can complete the mission by themselves. Every job is important no matter how insignificant it may seem to them. It is important to make sure every Airmen knows how they fit into the bigger mission. 

Using these tenets as a basis for your career, no matter how junior or senior you are, will give you confidence and the ability to make sound decisions. You will be a pillar for your subordinates. You will be a leader; someone you would want to follow.