FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Feb. 7, 2008 – Up front and in the spotlight, surgeons often are revered by patients and grateful family members for their lifesaving skills and knowledge.

However, other lifesaving medical professionals are working just as hard out of the spotlight and behind the operating room doors.

The Army’s operating room specialists, known as “68 Deltas,” are trained at the Army Medical Department Center and School here and are responsible for everything from holding retractors and passing instruments to sterilizing equipment and preparing specimens for the lab. Their tasks may sound simple in comparison to those of a highly trained surgeon’s, but, in their case, looks are deceiving.

“If an operating room specialist isn’t doing his or her job correctly by maintaining sterile technique, then infection rates in the hospital ,” said Lt. Col. Kathleen McArthur, chief of the 68 Delta branch.

McArthur oversees the operating room specialist training program, which comprises two phases and trains about 400 students a year. The first nine-week phase consists primarily of classroom instruction that culminates in a 72-hour field training exercise at nearby Camp Bullis.

“Our students learn how to carry out their job from the first step, which is setting up the case cart for the operation with a perioperative nurse,” McArthur said.

Once the surgery begins, operating room specialists must know how to set up a sterile field, pass instruments to a surgeon, apply dressings, take care of a specimen, and then tear down the room and take equipment to central materiel service for sterilization. Specialists also learn to sterilize equipment.

“The course is very challenging,” said student Pvt. Tommy Chavez. “But I’m enjoying it. I’ve always been interested in the medical field.”

The job is not for the faint of heart or weak-stomached, so new students are shown graphic pictures and video of surgeries so they can get a glimpse of what is to come.

“It’s common for students to pass out, even out in the field,” McArthur said. “Some people have a blood aversion, and others just get nervous the first time they’re in a surgical setting.”

Phase Two is 10 weeks in length. Students apply their new knowledge and skills in surgical settings at large Army medical centers or at small Army community hospitals. This phase can occur at any of 14 military medical facilities throughout the nation, including Brooke Army Medical Center here, which is a Level One trauma center.

“Students see gunshots, motor vehicle accidents and burns at BAMC,” McArthur said. “It’s very similar to the environment in a combat situation and is good preparation for deployment.”

Course leaders always keep an eye on the battlefield and work to weave lessons learned in Iraq into the curriculum to ensure students are ready for any situation.

“Many of our instructors have deployed and share pictures and knowledge that we integrate with the classes,” McArthur said.

The operating room specialist role grows in intensity during deployments. The specialists may serve with a forward surgical team, assisting with life-sustaining surgeries, or a combat support hospital farther away from the front lines.

“You have to be able to keep a cool head, which is why realistic training, like we have here, is so important,” McArthur said.

After training, students are equipped with the knowledge to assist with all types of operations, including orthopedics, cardio-thoracic, neurosurgery, podiatry, vascular, opthalmic and general surgery. As they gain more experience, “they are given more responsibility such as patient transportation, setting up surgical suites, operating surgical equipment and helping to monitor blood loss,” McArthur said.

Upon graduation, 68 Deltas are expected to demonstrate, under the direct supervision of a registered nurse, entry-level operating room specialist skills in the operating room and central materiel service, she said.

While surgeons may garner the spotlight, the Army’s operating room specialists play a vital role in the supporting cast of a medical team.

“I am pleased to say that the OR branch is staffed with stellar, combat-seasoned NCOs, officers who are leaders in perioperative nursing, and extremely gifted civilian instructors and staff,” said Col. Patricia Patrician, chief of the Department of Nursing Science. “We really can accept no less than that to train those who care for the American soldier.”

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 6, 2008 – More than 160 National Guard members turned out today to support recovery missions in three states hit by a violent string of tornadoes last night.

The National Guard Bureau reported that Guard members were called out to perform search and rescue missions, provide security at traffic control points, and to support civilian authorities in other ways in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Many of the Guard soldiers who responded were undergoing pre-deployment training at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., about five miles from one of the areas hit by a tornado.

At least 52 deaths have been blamed on the unseasonably early storms that swept across Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

In Kentucky, 112 Guard members with 16 Humvees and other equipment responded to emergency support requests after the tornados and severe thunderstorms caused widespread power outages and damage to homes and businesses. Central City officials called for Guard support after a tornado struck Muhlenberg County. The Kentucky Guard Mobile Command Post is being deployed to Muhlenberg County to provide phones and data capability to the county government.

Thirty-three soldiers from the Louisville-based 223rd Military Police Company, which was in Greenville for pre-deployment training, assisted the Kentucky State Police and local law enforcement in Central City. They were later relieved by 24 soldiers from the 307th Maintenance Company.

The 307th also is operating Guard heavy equipment, including 15 Humvees, a wrecker and a bus. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, were on standby with four Army Guard helicopters: two UH-60s and two OH-58s.

In Monroe Country, the 623rd Field Artillery is providing 22 soldiers and four Humvees for security support to the Kentucky State Police and local law enforcement in Tompkinsville and Gamaliel. The unit will provide 24-hour security operations there.

The 63rd Aviation Brigade has provided 10 soldiers and two UH-60s to fly Gov. Steve Beshear as well as Kentucky Guard and Emergency Management officials to assess the disaster areas.

The 149th Brigade Support Battalion, located in Bowling Green, was tasked to provide six soldiers to prepare equipment for a potential response in western Kentucky and as a possible relief force for the 307th and 623rd.

In Tennessee, about 20 Guard members with two heavy wreckers were helping local crews restore power by transporting support vehicles through storm-damaged areas to work sites. The Tennessee Guard also had one UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter providing aerial search and damage assessment for Gov. Phil Bredesen and emergency management personnel. The Tennessee Guard also set up three armories as Red Cross shelters.

In Arkansas, officials reported that 28 soldiers from the 142nd Fires Brigade, stationed at Fort Smith, were dispatched with nine Humvees to the town of Atkins, northwest of Little Rock. There, Guard members were assisting search and rescue personnel and removing debris from the area where officials said the first tornados touched down in the state. A half dozen counties were hit by the storms.

Maj. Keith Moore, an Arkansas Guard spokesman, said Gov. Mike Beebe declared states of emergency for some of the damaged areas. He said the Army Guard was operating two UH-60s to assist the governor and emergency management personnel who were assessing the damage.

In Mississippi, officials at the state Army Guard’s Southaven Armory reported minor damage from a tornado that struck in Southaven. Mississippi Guard members were assessing damage to the armory and its equipment, but no requests for Guard support have yet been reported.

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FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Feb. 7, 2008 - Up front and in the spotlight,…