Explore UAB

Subscribe to Department of Surgery News

Subscribe to Department of Surgery News

SG visit 2Lt. Gen. Robert Miller, the United States Air and Space Force Surgeon General, visited UAB to learn about the unique and successful military-civilian partnerships here.

The visit, on July 20, was significant, highlighting the positive impact of UAB’s collaboration with the Air Force in training Air Force medic’s for their life-saving missions.

Since 2006, UAB has hosted Air Force Pararescue Specialists (also known as PJs) and Special Operations Independent Duty Medical Technicians (SOIDMTs) for two-week training rotations to keep their medical skills sharp in-between deployments. The collaboration was started under the leadership of Jeffrey Kerby, M.D., Ph.D., FACS, director of the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, who in 2003 came back to UAB after active duty service in the Air Force following completion of his surgical residency.

Kerby had a unique opportunity for UAB to host the PJs and SOIDMTs in 2006 when, after Hurricane Katrina, they needed a location other than New Orleans to train.

UAB, as a high volume, Level I trauma center, would be the perfect fit. The program was designed to fully integrate the PJs and medics into UAB trauma teams, giving them ample hands-on opportunities like putting in IVs and chest tubes, performing operating room intubations, and assessing, triaging, and managing trauma patients. Labs, virtual reality, and a field training exercise are all also part of the training.

SG visit 4Jeffrey Kerby, M.D., Ph.D.; Lt. Gen. Robert Miller; and Daniel Cox, M.D.

Daniel Cox, M.D., UAB’s Trauma Medical Director and Chief of the UAB Trauma Service, is a Colonel in the Air Force Reserves and serves as Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the Air Force Special Operations Command Surgeon General.

Cox explained how UAB, the third largest academic medical system in the country, which sees over 6,600 trauma patients annually, is the perfect fit for this unique training.

“When you need someone to provide high-level care, you have to be getting high-level clinical experience,” Cox said. “The only way to be the best is by doing the grind day-after-day and taking care of the sickest patients.”

UAB’s trauma team is also made up of a high percentage of active duty service members and veterans, giving faculty and staff a level of understanding of what is required for the trainees.

Because of the immersive experience at UAB, the program’s reputation grew and word spread. The program tripled in size from the early days, now welcoming nearly 150 PJs and medics to UAB every year, with plans to expand to 300 in the near future and to make it mandatory for all units to come through UAB. The longstanding military-civilian relationship was formalized in 2020 with the launch of the Special Operations Center for Medical Integration and Development (SOCMID) at UAB.

The mil-civ partnership also includes the Special Operations Surgical Teams (SOST) which have been stationed at UAB since 2010.

SG visit 3Brenda Carlisle, UAB Hospital Chief Executive Officer.

Each SOST team includes a surgeon, a nurse, a scrub tech, an emergency medical physician, a respiratory therapist, and an anesthesiologist. These teams are ready at a moment’s notice to deploy to austere locations and dangerous situations across the globe, providing trauma resuscitation and life-saving surgical care. One example of their unique capability was the emergent deployment of a UAB based SOST team to Afghanistan for the Kabul evacuation in 2021.

“Growing these types of partnerships and making them right is important,” Miller said. “Our military will be better because of partnerships like these and the invaluable experience our service members are getting.”

Miller toured UAB and met with UAB leaders, including Kerby, Herbert Chen, M.D., FACS, the Chair of the Department of Surgery, and Brenda Carlisle, UAB Hospital Chief Executive Officer. Miller presented a challenge coin to Dale Davis, RN, BSN, who was instrumental in getting the SOCMID program off the ground.

Miller’s visit concluded with him seeing the PJs and SOIDMTs put their newly-sharpened skills to the test during a field training exercise which ends the SOCMID’s 112-hr Advanced Medical and Trauma Skills Sustainment Recertification Course.

“The breadth and depth of the military experience here is vital for our neighbors, communities, and surrounding states,” Carlisle said. “The military surgical experience is critically important to the outcome of our trauma patients here at UAB. Our hospital is better for your partnership and I thank you all for what you’re doing every single day.”

Capt. Savannah Stephens, USAFR, contributed reporting and photos to this piece. Read more at the Air Force Special Tactics website.

For an inside look at the field training excercise the PJs and SOIDMTs complete at the end of their two week rotations at UAB, watch this news piece from WVTM 13.