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Iraq Bomb Attack Led Soldier to Pursue Medical Career

Image of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Maxwell (Left) and U.S. Capt. Brian Ahern, medical personnel assigned to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovery team, check the pulse of a local villager during excavation operations in the Houaphan province, Laos, Feb. 5, 2019. Click to open a larger version of the image. U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Maxwell (Left) and U.S. Capt. Brian Ahern, medical personnel assigned to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recovery team, check the pulse of a local villager during excavation operations in the Houaphan province, Laos, Feb. 5, 2019.

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Army Master Sgt. Mathew Maxwell never planned to join a military medical career field.

Born in the United States, but raised in Canada, Maxwell started out in military intelligence with the Idaho Army National Guard. Before he deployed to Iraq in 2004, he took a Combat Life Saver course.

Several months later, he was out with his platoon when his unit was struck by a vehicle-borne improvised explosion device.

"I had to treat a seriously wounded patient as a CLS. I was the only one in the platoon that had the skills and abilities to help," he recalled. "I entered a bombed out building and treated and moved two patients that were on the roof… I was able to use the training I had and help them both."

"That's when I knew I wanted to do more in the medical field. This is the experience that convinced me to re-class and become a medic," Maxwell said.

Today, Maxwell is the senior enlisted advisor for the DHA Chief Nursing Officer at the Defense Health Agency in Falls Church, Virginia. And last summer, he received his Bachelor in Health Care Administration from Purdue University.

His experience treating wounded soldiers for the first time changed the direction of his career. He later reclassified as a "68 Whiskey" – the Army's occupational specialty for combat medics.

To get underway with his new career track, the Army sent him to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. As a prior service trainee, he received Advanced Individual Training as a Combat Medic, and was assigned to a deploying unit immediately after graduation.

"I was in Afghanistan six weeks after graduation and working in a battalion aid station," he recalled.

Maxwell then earned his Basic Life Saver instructor certification. After several years, the Army assigned him to be a Tactical Combat Casualty Care instructor, where he taught combat medic skills to other soldiers who were already in the "68 Whiskey" career field and preparing to deploy.

As the Military Health System observes this year's Nurses Week, Maxwell noted that the military medical community defines the nursing community very broadly to include medical professionals beyond just those who have received a registered nursing degree.

"When we say nursing, we are talking about a very broad scope of positions and responsibilities," he said. "Of course, we mean all of the commissioned officers, enlisted LPNs, GS civilians and contractors that work in our hospitals in the nursing positions."

"We also mean the nursing teams that support the care of patients, both in and out of a hospital," he added. "We put a lot onto our service members. We ask them to be the best nurse, medic, or corpsman they can be, and then give them additional duties outside of their medical ones."

"I know most of the Army medics, Air Force techs, and Navy corpsmen don't often think of themselves as nurses, but we are working to change how the force views them," he said.

"We want everyone to know that when we refer to Military Health System nursing, it is the entire care team that is responsible for patient care.

"Whether you are on a ship as an independent duty corpsman, or a medic on the line, you are part of the nursing team, and we want to recognize your contribution to the MHS and nursing."

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