Recipients of the military’s fourth-highest combat medal included Lt. Col. Ben Mitchell, emergency medicine physician; Lt. Col. Matthew Uber, nurse anesthetist; Maj. Justin Manley, surgeon; Capt. Cade Reedy, emergency room nurse; and Maj. Jonathan Chin.
The airmen, part of an elite Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST) from the 720th Operations Support Squadron, received the award for extraordinary heroism. They gave quick, lifesaving care during an overwhelming surge of casualties while deployed in the fight against the Islamic State group. During a two-month period, the small team cared for more than 750 patients, managed 19 mass-casualty events, performed 16 lifesaving surgeries and cared for casualties of chemical weapon exposure.
When not deployed, the SOST team members work regular shifts at UAB, treating patients in the hospital’s Level 1 trauma center. UAB Health System CEO William Ferniany thanked the airmen for their humanitarian works, executing their priceless skills in insecure, deprived and war-torn areas, as well as for UAB patients.
“A special operations surgical team is charged with providing hardcore medical care during combat when U.S. military is engaged,” he said. “UAB is proud to be one of the first civilian hospitals to host a SOST team, beginning in 2010. The team is integrated into the fabric of UAB medicine. They treat patients in our operating rooms, our emergency room and in our intensive care units.
“UAB is the state’s only adult Level 1 trauma center, so we provide the type of environment that is probably as close as you’re going to get in civilian situations, that the team will experience in combat,” Ferniany said.
Uber said that the day of honors represented a huge privilege for him and his team. Uber’s SOST is composed of active Air Force and medical professionals, including trauma surgeons, emergency physicians, nurse anesthetists, surgical scrub technicians, critical care nurses and pulmonary respiratory technicians.
“Behind that Bronze Star is really hundreds of individuals that went in to make this possible,” said Uber, who has served the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years and earned his master’s in nurse anesthesia at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in 2008.
“This, to me, is a validation of the concept of sending a small surgical team very far forward to take care of our armed forces, local forces that we partner with, a group of motivated, well-trained Air Force clinicians whose operations have been able to take care of hundreds of casualties,” he said.
Dr. Jeff Kerby, UAB director of the Division of Acute Care Surgery since 2014, thanked the airmen for their service to the country.
“This SOST works and trains at UAB as a team, maintaining their clinical proficiency in a high-volume Level 1 trauma center,” said Kerby, a former U.S. Air Force trauma surgeon in San Antonio, Texas. “However, what UAB receives in return, I consider even more valuable. In addition to the pride we have in being able to support their mission, we also learn from their expertise, taking their lessons learned and medical advances developed in a military setting and applying them directly to our civilian practice. This program makes us all better.”