Healing deployed wounded warriors

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Army Spc. Demetrius Payton warms up his muscles prior to physical therapy at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, July 24, 2013. Payton is a motor vehicle operator who injured himself during convoy operations in Afghanistan and has been recovering at the Intra-Theater Care Program here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)
U.S. Army Spc. Demetrius Payton warms up his muscles prior to physical therapy at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, July 24, 2013. Payton is a motor vehicle operator who injured himself during convoy operations in Afghanistan and has been recovering at the Intra-Theater Care Program here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)

7/31/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Established in 2008, the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group’s Intra-Theater Care Program here ensures no service member is sent home from the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility before having a chance to get back in the fight.

“We’re here to ease the workload of our forward operating hospitals so they can focus on the critically ill patients, and in turn, ITCP takes care of the non-emergent combat and non-combat related injuries,” said Staff Sgt. Shannon Maynard, the program’s NCO in charge deployed from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. “Our goal is to fix these soldiers and return them to duty within 30 days without them having to leave the AOR.”

On average, ITCP cares for 15 wounded warriors a month, returning 98 percent of patients to their units down range. The program’s patient make-up usually consists of 80 percent Army, 10 percent Air Force and 10 percent Navy and Marines.

“The benefit of this program is pretty significant,” Maynard said. “Patients who would normally go home and probably never return to the AOR, have the ability to come here, recover, relax and get the care they absolutely need before returning to duty without leaving their unit one man behind.”

This in turn saves the Department of Defense thousands of dollars that would have otherwise been used to locate another service member to take their place, no-notice, while they recover at hospitals in places like Germany and stateside.

“For me it was encouraging because we were told if you went to Germany that usually means you’re going home or if you’re home, you’re just not going to come back from certain types of injuries or ailments,” said U.S. Army Spc. Demetrius Payton, an ITCP patient who injured his foot while on convoy duty in Afghanistan. “It was encouraging for me because I wasn’t ready to leave; I was so short in my deployment. But when the doctors at Bagram Air Base told me I was coming here, my hopes rose.”

Payton said he didn’t want to leave his unit a man short and can’t wait to get back to them, but said he couldn’t have recovered as quickly as he has without the ITCP and the medical group’s staff.

The program affords patients access to fully qualified medical personnel 24/7. These patients are able to partake in all base activities going on pending it isn’t harming their recovery. ITCP is capable of housing up to 20 patients at any given time. Behind the scenes, Maynard works hand-in-hand with the patient’s units coordinating with the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility for their movement back down range and their direct line to the surgeons.

“Basically I am here to provide the best care and welfare I can for my patients, ensuring they make every appointment and adhere to their profile restrictions,” she said.

Maynard said this program benefits the warfighter by giving them a safe place to come and recover. They are given the care they need and a place to relax and decompress while they are here. Patients have access to all other services on base that wouldn’t be available down range.

“Since being here I’ve had nothing but success as far as battling the infection on my foot,” Payton said. “The infection could have invaded the bone and found its way into the blood system. But they settled my fears and treated me very well. Now the infection itself is basically beaten and I’m just going through the physical therapy process to get back in the fight.”

However, physical recovery isn’t Maynard’s only concern as she’s also looking out for their mental recovery.

“They get to participate in absolutely everything here,” she said. “When celebrities come by this is one of the first stops they make and I think it’s good for their morale.”

ITCP also provides patients with a weekly pizza night, Sunday brunch in bed and numerous other activities throughout the week. Patients are also encouraged to make themselves at home and participate in other morale, wellness and recreation events here, like Karaoke night at Memorial Plaza, among others.

“You don’t really feel like you’re isolated from the regular personnel here or even from the other patients,” Payton said. “It really feels good and makes you feel normal — not just like a patient.”

“They’ve made me feel so special,” added Marine Lance Cpl. Matt Zager, an ITCP patient. “I’m very appreciative for everything they’ve done to help me get better and back in the fight, not just physically, but emotionally as well.”

Maynard said she feels like the patients form bonds with other patients really helping in their recovery efforts.

“Even though they are from all different branches of the military, they form their own unit,” she said. “It’s nice to actually stand back and watch them bond and find out about different branches of the armed forces.”

As Payton completes his final steps to recovery he said he’s so grateful for everything ITCP, Maynard and the hospital staff has done for him.

“They really make you feel like part of a family,” Payton said. “You feel like you’re cared for here and not just another number.”

From the moment patients, like Payton, get off the plane to the moment they head back to the fight, ITCP is with them every step of the way.

“I think the patients respond well to the program; there’s always somebody there to take care of them,” Maynard said. “We have a mission here to get them better and back in the fight as soon as possible.”

Published by Benjamin W. Stratton

I'm a photojournalist traveling the world sharing what I experience along the way.

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