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Interview with USAF Medic John Cronin

Written by on Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

This week I got a chance to interview John Cronin, a medic with the United States Air Force! He answered a few questions about life as a military Doc and shared some of his thoughts about the USAF.

First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in the United States Air Force?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I joined the local volunteer rescue squad as a junior member.  I learned basic first aid, CPR and began what became a career in the military.  I had initially planned to become an Optometry Specialist; however, the school was not available for me when I finished basic training.  Basic Medical Technician was available and given my background, it was very attractive.  I actually had more emergency training going in to school than graduates coming out (at that time) had.  Since I attended, the school now graduates fully certified Emergency Medical Technicians.

My first assignment was Osan AB, South Korea where I worked in Family Medicine. Since then I have travelled to more than 10 countries on 3 continents.  I love travel and learning new cultures, which is a bonus.  My family has also been able to experience many cultures and traditions non-travelers never could.


Having been stationed in places like Germany, Japan, and Korea, which of your deployments was the most memorable?

Of the locations where I have been stationed, Germany was absolutely my favorite.  Every assignment offers unique benefits and challenges. I did 2 tours in Korea, which were locations where my family could not go. My first tour I was single. On my second tour, I had to say goodbye to my wife, my 7-yearold son, and 5-year old daughter for a year. That was a challenge. The isolation and resultant camaraderie were certainly a benefit.

If you had to sum up your experience serving in the USAF with just one word, what would it be?

That is a hard question. Being in the military does not lend itself to such reductionism.  It is a way of life. In many ways, it is just a job like any other. You go to work, you perform the tasks for which you were trained, you go home.  However, the military lifestyle and commitment that goes with it may require many additional hours, work away from home, dangerous conditions, and performance of tasks unrelated to your actual job.  “Fulfilling” might do.

How are health and training considerations different in the Air Force when compared to other branches, like the Army or Marine Corps?

Health and the maintenance of a fighting force are high considerations in all branches of the military.  I have not seen any real differences among the forces there.  I think that the Air Force has, until recently, made fitness more of a personal responsibility whereas the Army and Marines have done more organizational fitness activities.  The past 5 – 10 years have seen an increase in AF organizational activities also.

I think training is different in the Air Force.  We started out as a technical branch of the military in the mid 20th century.  We remain very technical in the 21st.  My experience with Marine is that “Every Marine is a rifleman first”.  Soldiers are similarly a soldier first. I don’t have much experience with Sailors.  I have not encountered many Airmen who feel that they are Airmen first.  We mostly identify with our occupation or organization.

I have attended Air Force specific and Joint trainings and believe that all branches offer excellent training.  In recent years, the medical program in San Antonio, TX has become joint, training Army, AF, and Navy medics in basic medical skills.  I am sure many other professions are similarly joint with budget constraints.


Likewise, would you say that military medical facilities are very different from what civilians are used to?

Military medicine is the same as civilian medicine.  Military Medical Treatment Facilities (MTFs) undergo the same evaluation as civilian facilities based on scope of care.  Hospitals are assessed by the Joint Commission and smaller clinics are assessed by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care.  These organizations certify that MTFs are acting in accordance with national guidelines, the same guidelines as civilian facilities. There are certainly differences in the healthcare environment but I would not say one is better than the other, merely different.  Many MTFs partner with civilian facilities to provide the most buy cialis 20mg modern technology to beneficiaries.  It is a great system.

You were involved in preparation and contingencies in the event of a WMD attack. Can you tell us a bit about what you did? Was it hard preparing people for such a grim possibility?

Since 9-11, Emergency Management and preparations for significant events have become very high priorities for governments and businesses.  I was in South Korea when the planes hit the towers.  Our base went into a total lock-down that lasted for several days as our leaders took stock of the situation and determined that they were not a prelude to a larger conflict.

My next assignment took me to the regional military hospital in Germany where we geared up to receive casualties from Southwest Asia. Working in the Emergency Department, I was also involved in preparing the facility to respond to a major CBRNE event in the local area. We secured decontamination equipment, trained on the equipment and with local responders, and developed plans to respond with host-nation responders in the event of a significant event.

I cannot say it was grim.  When you work in an Emergency Room or similar job, you develop a sort of psychological protective skin.  It is a bit of a detachment from events.  You can’t effectively manage serious events if you get caught up in them.  Most workers I have known have this detachment.  We can deal with the prospect of these horrible possibilities without becoming too affected.  It was actually reassuring to learn all that we could do to mitigate the negative effects.


Does the USAF have to make special medical considerations when it comes to natural disasters?

The military does have a unique role in preparing for these contingencies.  For natural disasters, military units must not only respond to the local effect, but also maintain mission capability to respond to threats of war.

While stationed in Japan during the 2011 earthquake/tsunami events, base leadership had to ensure the safety and welfare of those assigned and maintain the ability to execute the wing’s mission to fly F-16s on order from higher command.  Our planning efforts must keep that in mind along with all the standard emergency management response concepts.  Like many civilian emergency responder organizations (fire, police, ambulance), the military cannot close down to focus on recovery.

As a former mentor of junior Airmen trying to figure out their career paths, do you have any words of wisdom for young men and women out there thinking about enlisting with the USAF?

All too often, we hear people saying that a young person can join the military and learn discipline. I don’t agree. For the most part, the young Airmen I met were already disciplined. They were also a bright and intelligent lot.  The military can be a great help but, it is the rare situation where a messed up youth is turned around and able to become a great citizen.  The military does not have time or manning for that. We need hard-working, intelligent young men and women who are willing to surrender some of their freedom for the greater good of America.

Enlisted personnel are very well compensated, 100% tuition for college, great pay for a high school education, travel, new cultures.  The list goes on but it is not an easy life. Family plans are frequently cancelled, duty can be harsh and, ultimately, one may die in service to America; however, the rewards can be very fulfilling.

I imagine that working as a medic in the US military could be a very stressful and rewarding experience. Do any events really stick out to you, or make you feel proud of your job?

I was fortunate to work with some great people, receive some awesome training, and see beautiful sights.  Most of my fond memories are of people and places I saw off duty in Germany, Norway, Ecuador, or Korea.  My first thought to this question was of a time when I was driving and witnessed a motor vehicle accident on the highway.  Because of my training, I had no doubts as I stopped to render aid. I knew how to assess injuries and begin making the scene safe.  Because of my training, I was able to stay calm and assist a family through a difficult situation.  Using military training in real life is very rewarding and yes, fulfilling.

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