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Balad's pharmacy techs help save lives

by Senior Airman Colleen Wronek
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

4/11/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Within the chaotic center of the Air Force Theater Hospital here is a group of Airmen whose job is to ease pain and help people heal faster.

The Airmen in Balad's pharmacy ensure people on the way to surgery or on the way out of the hospital have their medications.

"We support the whole hospital, which is a Level-III trauma center," said Maj. Keith Cunningham, of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron's pharmacy flight. "We also ensure patients pharmaceutical needs are met (before) their air evacuation to Germany."

The Airmen support several Army forward-deployed locations as well as servicemembers arriving from throughout Central Command's area of responsibility.

"Soldiers come in from emergency departments and troop medical clinics," said Master Sgt. Rhonda Ball, 332nd EMDSS noncommissioned officer in charge of the pharmacy flight. "We fill their prescriptions when their facilities can't. We also take care of base contractors, (foreign and local workers) on an emergency basis. We have a very diverse mission with our primary focus on supporting the trauma center.

"On the Army side of base, they have a small pharmacy in their troop med clinics," she said. "We have a lot of medications that the Army (pharmacy) doesn't, so we do whatever it takes to keep our sister service mission ready."

Sergeant Ball said the Airmen have filled more than 40,000 inpatient orders and outpatients prescriptions.

"This is life or death," she said. "Everybody has a very vital role in the life-saving mission. Nothing is taken for granted here. If you don't get the patients their medication in time, there could be drastic consequences."

Balad's pharmacy staff is different from those stateside because they do things they do not normally do at home, Major Cunningham said.

"At the home station, we fill a lot of out-patient prescriptions," Major Cunningham said. "Here, we assist with receiving trauma patients. When these patients arrive, the pharmacy team provides medications, which allows the medical and nursing staff to focus on patient assessment and emergency treatment. The result is quicker access to surgical services for the patient."

Because of the number of prescriptions the pharmacy fills and the difficulty of getting supplies quickly, Balad's pharmacy Airmen have overcome a few supply obstacles.

"At home if we run out of a certain medication, we can have it shipped to us from Kansas City," said Major Cunningham, whose home station is Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. "Here if we run out of something, we have to have an alternate plan while we wait for the new shipment to arrive."

Other challenges are language barriers, long hours and the day-to-day stresses of working in a trauma center, Sergeant Ball said.

"You forget about the difficulties involved when you know you've had a direct hand in saving a life and you're part of a team," said Sergeant Ball, whose home station is also Offutt AFB. "In my 20 years of military service, this has been the most rewarding experience I've had in health care. We've got an incredible military with spirit and courageousness. I've never felt more privileged to wear my uniform and prouder to be a pharmacy technician in today's Air Force. I hope I can apply what I've learned here in the states so I can be a better person."

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