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NEWS | Feb. 13, 2013

IDMTs: The medical world's 'jack of all trades'

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

In the medical world, Independent Duty Medical Technicians are often revered as "Jacks of all Trades."

The IDMTs' mission is to save lives while accomplishing various jobs. They provide and manage patient care while at home station. But, while deployed, they're responsible for establishing medical facilities as a one-person team from the ground up.

Before becoming an IDMT, Airmen must complete a minimum of four years' experience as a medical technician, a minimum of 24 months with direct hands-on patient care, be a senior airman through master sergeant, and be in the National Registry of Emergency Technicians - Basic or above in current standing. Their 90-day training is conducted at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

"When there is a new contingency or base being established, IDMTs are some of the first personnel on the ground," said Tech Sgt. Chun Chung Fong, 628th Medical Group Primary Care Flight, flight chief. "But we do more than establish the medical facility and treat patients. We perform bio-environmental, public health, pharmacy, laboratory, medical logistics and administration duties."

According to Fong, IDMTs are capable of practicing virtually the same type of medicine as in a health clinic. But, the stress of operating alone in a deployed environment is something IDMTs cannot prepare for until they experience it.

During Fong's first deployment as an IDMT, he experienced those stresses first hand in Ethiopia. While deployed, he established a medical facility and before he could put his bags in his room, he had individuals knocking on his door - sick, vomiting and needing his help.

"After a few weeks, the pace begins to slow down," said Fong. "This is because our job goes beyond emergency care - we also provide preventative medicine. When you help others help themselves, it's easier for everyone to stay healthy."

From deploying to remote and exotic locations around the world on short notice, to conducting real-world medical combat training in their backyard, the IDMT career field is made up of a rare breed of Airman, a one-person Medical Group rolled into one.

"When we deploy, we usually work closely with commanders," said Hoki. "We advise commanders in deployed locations on weather conditions, bio-environmental monitoring results and public health."

Hoki just returned from a training exercise with the 1st Combat Camera Squadron, which conducted Ability to Survive and Operate Exercise Jan. 7 through 18, 2013, at North Auxiliary Air Field, S.C. The exercise familiarized and tested Airmen on the ability to operate outside the wire as combat documentation specialists.

Although only a training exercise, the injuries Hoki treated were very real.

"Days before I got to the training location, I began researching every variable," said Hoki. "I studied the area, surveyed the environment, living conditions and at home station, I conducted food inspections and water tests. The purpose is to prepare for anything, but also be ready for the unthinkable."

Unfortunately for Hoki, numerous "unthinkable" moments occurred during the ATSO training.

"During training exercises, such as ATSO, we expect some injuries such as sprained ankles or knees" said Hoki. "During the ATSO training, we had numerous allergic reactions that I did not expect to treat, but, I was prepared for."

Hoki credits his ability to overcome the stressful environment of ATSO on the daily training he receives at the 628th Medical Group. Every day, Hoki and the rest of the JB Charleston's IDMTs are busy treating patients, administering immunizations and performing a variety of other tasks. In addition to real-world medical treatments, the IDMTs are constantly training on diagnosis, treatment and emergency medical care situations to hone their skills when deployed.

"It's easy to get stuck in your day-to-day workload," said Fong. "But, the most rewarding part of my job is being able to see every job in the Air Force. I appreciate every job because I understand the mission. Being on the ground, on my own and providing health care can be stressful - but being able to see the mission, and the entire world, makes the work worth it.