From the VETERANS series:
Flight Medic, C Company Dustoff
3rd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment
"I try to conduct myself in the military not as a woman but as a Soldier, because we’re talking about a job, not a gender."
I grew up in Bainbridge Island, Washington. After graduating from high school, then started college, but I dropped out. I learned carpentry, working on custom millwork and building cabinets in Hawaii. As a carpenter, I discovered that I could help my injured coworkers whenever they fell off ladders or cut their fingers. I looked into joining the fire department to get my emergency medical training, but at 34, I thought it would take too long.
I decided I wanted to make a change, so I joined the army and got trained as a medic. I joined with no medical background. None whatsoever. What steered me toward this is that when stuff goes wrong, my brain seems to pop up and starts working correctly. I like being in tough situations and I just function well when quick decisions need to be made. When I joined, my family and friends thought I’d completely lost my brain. Even the recruiter said to me “Ma’am, you do know you’ll be going to war?”
I was pretty fascinated with helicopters when I was a little girl. But life happens and it didn’t seem possible. I wanted to fly, but I had to spend a year as a ground medic. My first deployment was as a ground medic in Iraq. Early on, I treated a Soldier who had a gunshot wound to the face. In addition to my medical training I learned basic aviation skills and how to be part of an air crew. I attended the Army’s Flight Medic Course at Forth Rucker, Alabama. I love flying. Flying in helicopters is a thrill!
I’m in the Dustoff community, and we’re pretty close knit so I don’t get to step out of it too much because we’re deployed all the time. We sort of keep to ourselves. I worked out of Jalalabad. I got to provide Medevac coverage in probably one of the worst places in Afghanistan. The Kunar Valley. The three days that we did the Dustoff 73 mission, in July 2011, we prepositioned at Forward Operating Base Joyce in eastern Afghanistan. We knew that an operation was going on. We kind of had the feeling that this operation was not all that fabulous. There were platoons stranded in the valley and being ambushed. We knew that there was bad weather, and we knew that we were going into the Watapur Valley which was well known for being well stocked with insurgents. This area was known as the “Valley of Death.” We started off the first day of the mission, our nine lines started coming down. Both my sister ship, Dustoff 72, and us went and picked up a few patients. This was all hoisting. Unfortunately there is no place to land in Watapur.
As a Dustoff medic, I am the dope on the rope. We’re definitely exposed, without a doubt. My sister ship found a place to come in, doing a one wheel off a house, but they took fire and lost their tail rotor hydraulics so they had to make an emergency landing. That left our aircraft the only aircraft left in the valley for the rest of the operation, to do medevac missions. And the medevac calls came rolling in. I did 11 hoists and I picked up 15 patients. It was exhausting. On my second hoist, I hit a tree. It was a 180 foot hoist that I oscillated on the way up with my patient and I didn’t want my patient to hit the tree so I stuck my leg out and fractured my leg, which I didn’t find out until a couple months later. My pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Erik Sabiston, asked me with a smirk “you need to quit?” He knew I wasn’t going to. It was an exhausting, exhausting mission. The one thing I would like to point out. Working the Kunar is an exhausting medevac task. There are some medevac units, they get to hang out watching movies during their deployment. That is not what happens in the Kunar and I am absolutely proud to have been a part of that.
When I first got there, I got there mid deployment. I was in Baghran doing patient transfers. And I put in to go to Jalalabad because I wanted to do hoist work, I wanted to have a full rounded experience of being a flight medic. When I first got there, the first month was rough. I knew that the guys weren’t sure if I was going to be able to handle myself when I came in contact, which was inevitable, doing hoist work in the Kunar. I try to conduct myself in the military not as a woman but as a Soldier, because we’re talking about a job, not a gender. I finally did my first mission and got shot at and got the patient on board and all of a sudden everybody talked to me. Do I think that’s really necessarily a gender specific thing? No. We sort of treat everybody like that until you get your first mission in, there’s always that question of how you’re going to do under fire in that difficult situation. Pretty much in our group if you cant do your job, we don’t want you. We don’t care what you were born with. But if you can’t get in there and lift a patient out and save his life, or at least try your darndest, then you need to go find a different job. That’s what works. Everybody that I’ve worked with is my brother and sister.
I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the highest prize in aviation. It’s definitely not something that I expected. I hoped to do great things when I joined the Army, but I wasn’t expecting glorious accolades. I won the Woman of the Year award at the USO awards in New York. The Dustoff Mission was named Air/Sea Rescue of the year, the top honor given by the Army Aviation Association of America.
Medicine is fascinating to me. I just can’t seem to get enough of it, still to this day. It’s been like that since I started the training. I continue to take courses – I recently finished the flight paramedic “C” course. I’ve gotten a lot more out of the Army than I ever imagined.
I’d been a civilian for a good 15, 16 years of my adult life. I wanted to be a flight medic that is why I came into the army. It was a job that I wanted to do. That goal was possible for me. If that goal wasn’t possible for me I would not be in this position. And I think that with the news ands the steps forward that were making, to be able to have that bar for women to strive for, we’re gonna see some really kickass ladies coming out.
Material collected from the following sources:
C-Span. “Julia Bringloe speaking at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute panel on Women in Combat.” Feb 1, 2013. Video.
Rider, Dwayne. “Flight Medic Receives Distinguished Flying Cross.” United States Army News Archives. December 11, 2012.
Tibetts, Meredith. “Heros 2013: ‘I didn’t fly with my own two arms.’” Stars and Stripes, June 12, 2013.