Army Physician’s Solider First Motto

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]While in the field, he wears a pair of trauma scissors tucked into his Army vest. The blue handles pop with color against the faded green and brown camouflage of his uniform. They’re within easy reach in case of an emergency.

“Every Soldier should carry (them) whether you’re medical or not,” said Lt. Col. Louis DiBernardo, a U.S. Army Reserve doctor, while training at Fort Hunter Liggett, California.

“You never know when you’re going to need them to expose an injured area … When there’s an incident, we jump on it as immediately as we can,” said DiBernardo, who is the lead surgeon for the 11th Military Police Brigade.

In the dry heat of Fort Hunter Liggett, DiBernardo didn’t have the comfy amenities most civilian doctors enjoy at a hospital. He was on constant call in the field working out of a van or a tent in 100-degree temperatures, responded to several real-world emergencies (including a tent collapse and a vehicle that crashed into a ditch), while treating Soldiers for routine medical needs and helping medical units with resupply runs.

“We’re still Soldiers first,” said DiBernardo of himself and his fellow Army medical professionals. “You might not experience that as much in a hospital, but in the field, that’s quite different because you have that intimate experience of embracing the suck together. We wear the same uniform and bleed the same color. When you remove that white lab coat barrier, it shows everyone else that we are on equal terms. A Soldier is a Soldier as any other.”

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Photos by  Michel Sauret


In his left front pocket (by his heart), however, DiBernardo carries something all his own to keep him going. Sealed inside a plastic Ziploc, he unfolds a handful of drawings made by his two sons, Louis and John.

As he thinks about his role as a father and Army surgeon, he remembers a scene from “We Were Soldiers.”

“‘How can you be a father and a Soldier at the same time?’” he paraphrased one Soldier asking another. “‘Well, hopefully being good at one makes you good at the other.’ I’ve always found motivation in quotes like that.”

or a while, however, he couldn’t do both.

He walked away from the Army Reserve in 2010 after completing his first 8-year contract. He had mobilized twice and deployed once in a span of five years from 2004 to 2009. With his family in Southern California, the Army sent him to New York, Alaska and Iraq, on almost back-to-back rotations.

“My son went from, ‘I want to be just like daddy,’ to: ‘I don’t like the Army,’” he said.

As a civilian doctor, DiBernardo specializes in family practice for nearly 20 years. When 9/11 happened, and he watched the twin towers come down, his first thought was: “I know they’re going to need physicians.”

He commissioned into the Army Reserve in spite of every warning by his father, who fought in Vietnam, and his grandfather, who served in World War II.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][qt-spacer][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1534685893985{padding-right: 0.5px !important;padding-left: 0.5px !important;}”]


Photos by  Michel Sauret


“They all told me the same thing: ‘Don’t join the military. Go to college, and do what we never had the opportunity to do,’” said DiBernardo.

So he did. He was the first in the family to complete a 4-year degree, and went on to complete medical school. But when the images on the television showed the towers fall, the pull to serve was too strong.

That same desire to serve returned after a 5-year break in service in 2015.

“I just love taking care of Solders. I see a lot of veterans in my clinic. Lot of younger veterans. Amputees who come into my urgent care, and those conversations really helped me solidify my decision. I missed it. I loved being a Soldier,” said DiBernardo.

DiBernardo doesn’t fit the general stereotype of the absent, uninvolved doctor. He takes the time to talk to his patients and Soldiers.

Many patients who see DiBernardo at his clinic ask if he has his own practice. They want him as their primary care doctor. But he enjoys the shift work because it allows him balanced time with his sons and continued service to the Army.

As a brigade surgeon, he is responsible for the overall medical readiness and medical care of approximately 3,000 Soldiers across multiple units. If he were to deploy with the military police, he would also care for civilians and enemy prisoners at MP detention centers. While training at Fort Hunter Liggett in July, he was constantly in demand. One minute he was changing out bandages on a Soldier’s wound, the next he was briefing medical officers in charge of the entire training area, then on to resupplying fellow medical units across the training areas with whatever they needed.

During CSTX, he was also asked to provide a medical report to the 91st Training Division on how to improve field medicine during training. The report will help provide better care to Soldiers in austere training environments and prevent casualties.


Special Ops Doctors Save Italian Patient From Death


U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie Gates, left, Capt. Nick McKenzie, and Capt. Richard Thorsted, Special Operations Command Forward Northwest Africa ground surgical team at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey, Niger. The three doctors recently finished medical school and are serving their first deployment.

[/vc_column_text][qt-spacer][qt-spacer][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”SPOFWD Medical Unit Save Italian Patient Hours From Death
” font_container=”tag:h1|font_size:60|text_align:center” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1533458976112{padding-bottom: 10px !important;}”][vc_column_text]Article by Nick Wilson

What began as a normal day eventually became an 18-hour sequence of events never to be forgotten.

Doctors and staff of Special Operations Command Forward (SOCFWD) – North and West Africa’s Ground Surgical Team (GST), a tenant unit assigned to Nigerien Air Base 101, Niger, were notified that an Italian woman recently suffered life-threatening injuries that required their attention.

The Italian woman was originally receiving care at a local hospital in Niamey when the GST was contacted by Italian military officials because the local hospital didn’t have the resources needed to save the patient’s life.

When U.S. Air Force doctors from SOCFWD – North and West Africa’s GST initially reviewed the computed tomography, or CT scans, they immediately knew there was more serious damage than what was reported as only a liver bleed by the local hospital.

“Upon reviewing the CT scans, there was also evidence of free air in the abdomen, concerning for a small bowel injury,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie Gates, GST emergency medical physician. “When the patient arrived, her skin was white and she was in serious pain with minimal responsiveness. Her vitals were much worse than previously reported.”

The patient had a fever, a very high heart rate and low oxygen levels.

“First thoughts upon seeing patient … she wasn’t doing well,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Richard Thorsted, GST anesthesiologist. “She arrived to us in critical condition with a high fever.”

Thorsted and other GST members agreed that emergency surgery would be needed. Immediately, the team directed the 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron medical team to set up a walking blood bank.

Additionally, they coordinated with various units and agencies from the 768th EABS, and Italian, French and German military forces to set up airlift and transportation to a larger medical facility in Senegal.

The patient is currently in good condition and recovering from her injuries in Naples, Italy, according to the GST staff.

“I’m especially thankful for the total team effort to do what is right, and not to let bureaucratic issues delay critical care,” said Capt. Nick McKenzie, GST general surgeon. “This was somebody’s mother, or wife, or daughter.”

McKenzie, Thorsted, and Gates, all of whom recently graduated from medical school and finished their residency programs, credit their success to a rigorous military training program they attended prior to deploying to Africa.

They all had run through clinical scenarios and situations to be able to work in austere conditions.

“Our training kicked in. We all knew our roles and worked well together,” Gates said. “I believe our training was crucial for our development as a team and ability to handle situations like this.”

Gates also said trust was crucial in the team’s ability to work in a stressful situation.

“I know that our ICU nurse, Capt. Jessica Bertke can trouble shoot any of our equipment and is the glue that holds our team together,” Gates explained. “I know that our anesthesiologist, Capt. Richard Thorsted, is meticulous at his job and is already steps ahead when problems arise. I know that our surgeon, Capt Nicholas McKenzie, has operated in much more austere conditions and would trust him to operate on my own family.”

Gates also mentioned that their scrub tech, Senior Airman Joshua Rios, has worked closely with McKenzie and can predict what he will need.

“I know that MSgt Lou Campbell is always behind the scenes advocating not only for the patient and dealing with medivac logistics, but advocating for our team,” Gates said.

McKenzie said the support from the SOCFWD-NWA and air operating base staff in supporting his team’s decisions was one of the most crucial elements to his team’s success. He also thanked the Italian military doctor Valantina Di Nitto, who translated information regarding the patient into French, German, English, and Italian for the multinational military units at Air Base 101.

“My takeaway is personally knowing that we did something to help another human being,” Thorsted said. “There is an inner peace knowing you’ve done your best and you made an impact in someone’s life.”