SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - Most people can't imagine winning an Air Force-level award at any time in their career, but Maj. Artemus Armas of Air Mobility Command Headquarters, won not one, but two, Air Force-level awards in the same year ... Flight Nurse of the Year and Nurse of the Year for 2010.
"I was totally shocked and surprised when I found out I had won," said Armas, branch chief of aeromedical evacuation, operations and training. "I felt I was doing my job, but I never thought I would win an AF level award."
Armas was aware he was being nominated for the Air Force Flight Nurse of the Year, but he didn't have a clue his package was also submitted for the Air Force Nurse of the Year.
"My boss asked me for some information, so she could put together a package for the flight nurse of the year award," said Armas. "Apparently AMC felt my nomination was strong enough to compete for the overall award, so when we found out I had also won the nurse of the year, it was a surprise to both of us. It really took me some time to realize I had won two major Air Force awards, it's an honor to win just one."
Armas said winning the awards meant a lot to him, but he can't take all the credit for it.
"It was an honor for my boss to recognize me," said Armas. "She saw something in me over other people, but I can't take all the credit for it. These awards are not only a reflection of my work but also the people who have worked alongside of me in garrison and deployed environments."
One of the main jobs of being a flight nurse is taking care of patients in the sky. But, there are so many other opportunities that people may not be aware of that flight nurses are responsible for.
During the award period, Armas had the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan and again to Southwest Asia.
"My first deployment was to Camp Bastion Joint Operating Base in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, which was the fiercest combat zone in Afghanistan at the time," said Armas. "I was the officer in charge of the aeromedical evacuation liaison team at the Camp Bastion Joint Operating Base Hospital. Our team consisted of a flight nurse (myself), a medical service corps officer and two radio technicians. We were primarily responsible for providing fixed-wing aeromedical evacuation for NATO forces and civilians. The team also helped anyone (to include civilians) who needed to be seen by a specialist not stationed at Camp Bastion.
"The basic function was to properly prepare patients to be transferred by the AE system," Armas said. "This included those with traumatic amputations or other combat injuries who needed more specialized treatment and needed to get to a 'Role 4' hospital--which is an advanced medical care center."
The British and Danish also worked at the hospital, so Armas had to ensure they were properly trained on the care of patients before loading them on U.S. aircraft.
"I had to teach more than 43 coalition forces physicians, nurses and medical technicians on the use of AE approved patient controlled analgesia pumps, chest tube drainage systems and traction devices," Armas said. "The hospital had their own brands, but we had to transfer their brand to the AE brands. If this did not happen, the AE crew who comes for the patients will refuse them because they are not packaged properly, and they won't take a chance and have something go wrong in-flight because of wrong equipment."
Armas also taught hospital leadership, as well as U.S. military members from the different services, on how the AE system works and the process of getting a patient to a higher echelon of care. His prior Army infantry experience helped lead his AELT in teaching hospital personnel how to properly sanitize patients before they entered the hospital.
"While there we sanitized more than 500 allied and enemy casualties. We removed any guns, ammo, explosives, etc., before injured personnel entered the hospital," said Armas. "This was done for security reasons, ensuring nothing happens to hospital staff or other patients."
The major received a five-day notice for his second deployment to Southwest Asia because of an injury to a person who was currently deployed.
During this deployment he was in charge of the aeromedical evacuation operations team. He managed eight aeromedical evacuation crews and two critical care air transport teams.
"My job was to make sure crews were ready to fly 24 hours a day, seven days a week to pick up patients in the area of responsibility, which is in support of seven countries. If patients needed to be picked up, I needed to make sure crews were ready to go."
While deployed as an AELT, Armas found a way to give back to the less fortunate as well.
"I led our team with a program called 'Soldiers Angels.' People throughout the U.S. sent items such as books, food, soap, clothes, shampoo, music CDs and blankets, and we distributed them to personnel who were living out in austere conditions and patients who needed supplies in the hospital," Armas said. "We ended up distributing more than $50,000 worth of products to more than 500 patients, 24 units and 12 forward operating bases."
Armas, a La Mirada, Calif., native, has been in the military for 27 years spending 17 of those years in the National Guard and Army Reserve. He came into the Air Force as a nurse in 2002, and eventually became a flight nurse in 2007.
"I absolutely love what I do, and getting the opportunity to be a flight nurse has been the most satisfying and rewarding job I have had thus far in my nursing career," said Armas. "It has given me opportunities to be an effective leader and make an immediate difference in those I have taken care of that I would not have had as a nurse in a clinic or hospital.
"With the shortage of nurses in the Air Force Nurse Corps and the Air Force flight nurse community, I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes adventure, leadership opportunities and enjoys taking care of our wounded warriors," Armas said.