Medical technicians act as enlisted physician extenders

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Every component of Misawa needs to stay fit to fight and ready to immediately execute orders, sorties and missions across the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Independent duty medical technicians are commonly known for being the jack of all trades within the medical field--they must retain mass amounts of skills and knowledge to serve as a mobile extension of physicians.

“We're able to act as medical providers for any active duty personnel for non-chronic issues,” said Staff Sgt. Kody Whiteside, a 14th Fighter Squadron IDMT. “Because of the scope of our training and capabilities, IDMTs are equipped to go where we’re needed anywhere in the world.”

Whiteside added IDMTs can work as medical, dental, lab, bio-environmental and public health technicians, as well as maintain familiarity with medical records systems.

“Medical technicians are best described as an enlisted physician extender,” Whiteside said. “Essentially, we wear nine to 10 different 'hats' in our career.”

Whiteside explained that a typical workday for a medical technician changes depending on the needs of the mission, but there are times where they are called to show their elite medical skills and capabilities for responding to simulated mass-casualty contingencies.

“The career field requires a lot from Airmen because it is hard work,” said Staff Sgt. John Becker, a 35th Medical Group IDMT. “In order to become an IDMT, you have to be a seasoned, highly motivated and well-disciplined medical technician.”

The medical technicians often find themselves attached to other units, like the 35th Operations Group or to survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists.

“From SERE trainings to new exercises like Cope Angel, which included the first-ever USAF and Japan Air Self-Defense Force rescue exercise, we provide medical coverage to the 35th OG’s different operations while attached to that unit,” Whiteside said. “We also support the 35th MDG, since we're medical assets, we find ourselves administering shots during deployment lines or at the mass flu vaccination line.”

While attached with the 35th OG, Misawa IDMTs gain additional experience serving as flight doctors to pilots assigned with the 13th and 14th Fighter Squadrons.

“We support the pilots and their missions by keeping their medical readiness requirements up to date and provide medical care for any forward movements,” Whiteside said. “Not only does the flight doctor position alleviate the strain on pilots’ busy schedules, but allows the flight doctors and IDMTs to know their people, so when we deploy alongside them, we already know everyone’s medical needs.”

Whiteside stated sometimes they have days of slower operations, but then there are times where the excitement seems never ending, keeping them on their toes.

“In one incident, I made an IV pole out of two lawn chairs, a rock rake and binding wire to administer fluids to someone who dehydrated themselves,” Whiteside explained. “Because we were in an isolated third world country, we had to be creative.”

Their experiences are considered a little out of the ordinary by some, Whiteside and Becker agree, but their job is important and they find it enjoyable.

“Although we didn't have eight years of medical school like our officer counterparts, we get to hang out with the doctors and we truly are a part of something big,” Becker said. “Like everyone in the military, we train to deploy, but the deployed setting is where our true job lies. We are a walking hospital in one technician.”

Whether it’s having a drowning emergency during water survival training, heat strokes or hypothermia during combat survival training or providing medical coverage for a joint exercise, IDMTs are expected to be able to respond and deal with any emergencies that come up.