Innovation legacy grows stronger every day

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Beth Dion
  • 60th Inpatient Operations Squadron

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – In October, David Grant USAF Medical Center will turn 30 years old. What most of us don’t know is who David Grant was.

The word innovator comes to mind when I think of Maj. Gen. (Dr.) David Grant. Grant served 33 years in the Army Air Forces during World War I and World War II. He was the first to identify that the medical needs of the Army Air Forces differed significantly from those of land armies. He then successfully fought for a separate medical service for the Army Air Forces and became the first air surgeon of the Army Air Forces.

Grant was one of the first to recognize the potential of aeromedical evacuation and was responsible for its organization and operation in World War II. He was instrumental in establishing a convalescent rehabilitation program, which helped restore many of the sick and wounded to maximum ability.

His encouragement of aeromedical research resulted in the development of many modern high- altitude equipment items used to protect flying personnel. He directed the precursor of our present aircrew selection and classification systems and is credited with establishing the Physiological Training Program.

I am sure Grant never thought that flight medicine, aeromedical transport and our rehabilitation capabilities would be what they are today, but we know these capabilities exist in some part due to his pioneering efforts. He was an early innovator for our Air Force and today, we are still an Air Force of innovators. 

Innovation isn’t easy; it forces us to develop new values and go against established norms. A lot of times at the beginning of the process it puts more work on our plate and we are all busy juggling many priorities. 

In my experience, one of the hardest parts of innovation is that it doesn’t always benefit us. It may not even come to fruition in our tenure. But we always have to remember, we innovate for the next generation of Airmen, leaving the Air Force better than we found it.

When I was a young nurse “they” wanted to stand up infant and pediatric heart-lung bypass transport teams. At this time, there wasn’t a blueprint for such a team. Heart-lung bypass transport didn’t even exist in the civilian sector.

It was nearly two years after the Air Force had successfully accomplished this feat that it was adopted by our civilian counterparts. We did it. When I say “we,” I mean the whole Air Force because it was not just a medical success. We couldn’t have done it without Air Mobility Command.

Heart-lung bypass transport isn’t something that can be accomplished on a helicopter or C-21 aircraft. It requires a large aircraft. When we called an aircrew and told them what we wanted to do and what medical equipment would be involved, they were excited to work with us and we figured it out together. Our longest mission was from San Antonio, Texas to Okinawa, Japan. We provided care for a very sick 5-day old. Today, that child is a healthy 20-something-year-old.

Fast forward 20 years later and there is now adult heart-lung bypass transport capabilities and dedicated transport teams available. Those teams have deployed and put wounded and sick service members on transport flights to bring them home. Today, a family is able to hug their hero because we did it.

I have been in the military for 24 years and people always ask me what my favorite assignment was. My answer is always the same, “It isn’t about where I live, it is about the amazing experience and opportunities I have had.”