Medics, maintainers test skills at alternative careers
BY: Senior Airman Thomas Trower , AFNS
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- How many steps does it take to prepare an F-16 Fighting Falcon to launch for a combat sortie? How stomach-turning is it to sit in on a surgery?
Staff Sgt. Ubong Okokon and Master Sgt. Mark Crew are dedicated to answering these questions and more for Airmen serving in the Air Force Theater Hospital or on the flightline here.
The two NCOs orchestrated a program dubbed Medics to Maintainers -- or Maintainers to Medics -- where Airmen have the opportunity to volunteer their free time to intern in a career field far different from their own.
"It's a great chance to learn what your neighbor does," said Sergeant Okokon, the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group NCO in charge of storage distribution. "I let everyone in the medical group know about the opportunity to participate in the program and my e-mail box is always full."
Sergeant Okokon, a native of Oklahoma City deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., has arranged for more than 110 crew chiefs and other maintainers to participate in standard medical practices such as lab work, transporting patients from the helipad to the emergency room or observing surgery.
"I got to see open-heart surgery. How many maintainers get to say that?" said Senior Airman Timothy Loop, a 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "I've volunteered at the intensive care unit twice now."
"A lot of the maintainers find it interesting that many of the patients they see on the news are being brought here for treatment," Sergeant Okokon said. "They also don't realize a lot of the patients we care for are children. It can be difficult to see a child in need of skin grafts to repair burn damage."
"We never place a volunteer into a situation he can't handle," said Airman Crew, the 332nd EAMXS support and supply section chief, who stressed the importance of safety. "I've checked out every area of the hospital, so I can better help people decide where to visit."
More than 65 medics have joined the maintainers to taken advantage of the program and accumulated more than 1,100 volunteer hours.
Staff Sgts. Andrew and Kelly Lomeli, a husband and wife deployed from Lackland AFB, Texas, to the 332nd EMDG, added to these numbers as they tested their maintenance skills by attaching wing panels and marshaling F-16s for takeoff.
The first question Sergeant Crew, a native of Sand Springs, Okla., deployed from Misawa Air Base, Japan, had for the duo was, "How dirty do you want to get?" After a safety briefing and receiving a pair of coveralls, they went to work.
"Installing panels was a long process," said Sergeant Andrew Lomeli, the NCO in charge of medical material and a native of Colton, Calif.
"This was our first time this close to an F-16," said Sergeant Kelly Lomeli, the NCO in charge of the medical equipment management office and a native of Green Bay, Wis. "We've wanted to do this ever since we first got here."
She and her husband deployed here three months ago. They were deployed to the same unit by chance.
Participants in the program can also receive benefits that influence their careers.
"This program is a great tool for people considering other careers," Sergeant Okokon said. "We've had a few maintainers going through the cross-training process come try their new career field before heading off to school."
"Sometimes it's just nice to do something different," said Airman Loop, a native of Huntington Beach, Calif., deployed from Misawa Air Base, Japan.
"This is a lot more than a regular volunteer opportunity," Sergeant Okokon said. "We let everyone get hands-on experience. From airman basic to colonel, there's no limit to who can benefit from the program."