From the Frontlines: Staff Sgt. Michael Warren

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cody H. Ramirez
  • 9th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
"We are done for!" he said. "You're all going to die!"

This shout wasn't called during a fire fight in Afghanistan. It wasn't heard while watching a Hollywood war movie. Instead, the insistent warning of inevitable death came from a mental health patient on an aero medical flight.

"It was different, but you got used to it," said Staff Sgt. Michael Warren, 509th Medical Operations Squadron mental health clinic non-commissioned officer in charge, who recently deployed to Landstuhl, Germany.

Working in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility from Dec. 30, 2011 to May 28, 2012, about 15 miles from Ramstein Air Base, Warren had two main duties. He was a member of the in-patient psychiatric ward staff and a medical attendant on air-medical flights.

Warren found himself working the night shift in the psych ward for his day-to-day operations, typically working 14-hour days while personally caring for five patients. He periodically checked on each patient throughout the night and woke them up each morning to help start their day, but Warren said communication was the most important part of his care.

Each shift Warren would conduct simple face-to-face interviews with each patient to ensure they were mentally stable and not considering suicide or homicide.

"I would ask the patients about their day; if they were thinking of harming themselves or others; if they were having hallucinations," Warren said. "It was a pretty informal system of small conversation and taking medical notes for documentation."

Patients would set goals for each day, and with the help of Warren, achieve them. This led well into group therapy, according to Warren, when he would inquire about the progression of goals and talk with the patients as a unit.

The patients were made up of local service members from countries such as Spain, Germany and Italy, and troops from downrange.

"The ones coming from down range came to us only if they weren't able to function, so they weren't necessarily suicidal or homicidal, but the stress and/or anxiety experienced at their [deployed] locations made it difficult for them to function," Warren said. "The impact that Afghanistan has on some of our deployed service members is not only physical, but mental."

While patients from local European-hosted bases would go back to their units, most patients from downrange were housed in Landstuhl for typically a week, before being transported to a medical facility in the U.S., according to Warren.

"If they were ever unstable enough to leave downrange, they always went back to the states," Warren said. "We never wanted to take the risk" of sending them back downrange, even if the individuals seemed healthy at the time. It's important for individuals to fully recover and learn to cope and function, according to Warren.

This is when Warren's second main duty came into play - being a medical attendant on aeromedical flights. He escorted patients from Germany to medical facilities in the states ensuring the patient had everything they needed; their medical records; their medicine; their wellbeing. He would hand the patient over for treatment, finish what he needed, sleep, and immediately head back to Germany.

"It was a unique and exhausting experience," Warren added with a pause and look of reflection. "The typical mission lasted 30 hours. You did what you could, dropped the patient off in the U.S., and hoped for the best."

As an NCOIC here, Warren deals with schedules and templates and records. While deployed he had the opportunity to interact with a variety of patients. Warren said it was a great experience for him, because as a prior F-16 mechanic who retrained into the mental health career field, he hadn't had much previous patient interaction.

"Most days it was nice to get the hands-on aspect, rather than desk work," Warren said. "It was a great feeling to be able to help those that needed it and be a part of the mission.

"Watching patients progress over the days, with the help you are proving them, is very rewarding," he added.

There wasn't one specific event that made the deployment memorable. According to Warren, it was the overall perspective of the Afghan war he saw.

"Seeing it first hand, the consequences of freedom that we have and the impact that it has on everyone, is a powerful realization," Warren concluded.