SAN ANTONIO – They risk their lives to save fellow soldiers on the battlefield. To do that, Army flight medics need the best training possible. The Army's top flight paramedic program is in San Antonio. Day one starts with an inspiring documentary and by the end, students are prepared to save lives. The program is both unique and crucial.
The job is dangerous, but the outcome, trainees say, makes it worthwhile.
"Complete amputation patients that I got to meet up with after the fact, just to see the look on their faces, it's really humbling to hear that specific person tell you thank you," Staff Sgt. Jason Daniels said.
Daniels has already been deployed twice as an Army flight paramedic. Still, he was there on day one of UT Health San Antonio's nine-month course, to learn even more skills from the one-of-a-kind program.
Graduating comes with high expectations.
"(Graduates have to) serve on a deployment and (have) to be by themselves, taking care of a patient in the back of a helicopter, whether it be at home or abroad, whether it be a time of war or national disaster," said program director Leslie Hernandez, with UT Health San Antonio.
Hernandez said it's rigorous critical care training that sets this program apart.
"You will come out of here with a National Registry Paramedic Certificate and a Flight Paramedic Certificate," Hernandez said to a class full of new students.
Most paramedic classes only leave students with the National Registry Certification. UT Health's program also includes several sub-specialty courses including Advanced Medical Life Support and Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support, which are certification courses. They also include the Pediatric Advanced Life Support and the Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support programs. These courses leave them with multiple certificates and multiple certifications.
"Some programs, students come two to three hours a night. This program is very intense because it's a Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. We've added to the skills toolbox of our soldiers so they can, by themselves, assess manage critical patients, noncritical patients, newborns up to geriatrics " Hernandez said.
"It's the difference between the junior varsity and the professional league if you want to put it in football terms. These guys and girls, when they come out of here, are going to have a skill set that modern field medicine has yet to see," said Dan Gower, an Army veteran and former medevac pilot.
Gower said the level of violence during current warfare makes this higher level of training necessary. He learned that firsthand when he helped create a documentary in Afghanistan.
"IED (improvised explosive device) blast, double amputee, no legs, bleeding, unconscious, doing CPR, that guy needs us," a medic explained in the Arrowhead Films documentary, produced and directed by Pat Fries from Austin.
Fries is invited to show that documentary to each incoming class of Army flight medic students to inspire them and teach them about the legacy and the history of the program.
"This program, this level of training has been something that's been needed for years and years and years," Gower said.
It is training UT Health hopes to keep teaching in the Alamo City for years to come. The program is about to graduate its 23rd Army flight paramedic class. The program started in 2011.
The same program, overseen by similar faculty, is also contracted to teach civilians, such as San Antonio's firefighters.
San Antonio Fire Department crews are certified through a similar paramedic program offered by UT Health San Antonio. The difference is they stop at the paramedic training and do not take any flight medic classes.