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Laboratory technicians: small numbers, large impact

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Holt
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Tech. Sgt. Richard Minton said he never really understood the impact of being a medical laboratory technician in the Air Force until he deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.

There, he experienced firsthand the importance of his craft while delivering blood to servicemembers receiving treatment for critical injuries.

“I didn’t see the whole impact until I was downrange and saw the effect I had on people in their biggest time of need,” said Minton, 1st Special Operations Medical Support Squadron Diagnostic and Therapeutic flight chief. “After seeing the effect this job can have, I know the extent of what the lab does for the military.”

Minton has carried that experience with him stateside, ensuring the Airmen who work for him at the 1st SOMDSS Laboratory understand the impact they have on each patient they serve.

“We are told to treat each sample as if it were ours, or a family member’s,” said Senior Airman Roger Smith, 1st SOMDSS medical laboratory technician. “We care about the patients and their results. It’s not about us, it’s about them.”

The 1st SOMDSS Laboratory is comprised of seven personnel who are responsible for more than 17,000 beneficiaries and 156,000 tests a year.

“I'm extremely proud of the work that our laboratory technicians do for the 1st Special Operations Wing and our beneficiaries,” said Lt. Col. Mary Beth Luna, 1st SOMDSS Diagnostic and Therapeutic flight commander. “Last year, the laboratory underwent a rigorous inspection. We were compliant on 99 percent of 457 line items and received full accreditation from the College of American Pathologists, which is the national gold standard for clinical laboratory excellence.”

The general technicians rotate on a weekly basis to perform everything from phlebotomy to chemistry and hematology to serology. Though some tests are shipped to DoD reference labs, the five technicians processed more than 7,600 tests in the month of February.

“There is only one lab on this base, so everyone comes to us,” said Smith. “It can get a little hectic in here sometimes, but we look out for each other and make sure no one gets overwhelmed. We are constantly learning something new every day, using our technical skills and challenging our thought processes.”

Since the development of the career field in the 1920s, laboratory technicians have played an increasingly vital, behind-the-scenes role in the diagnosis and prevention of disease.

“We epitomize the SOW’s motto, ‘Quiet Professionals’ because nobody knows who nor how these tests are performed,” said Luna. “Our customers only see the front window and drawing room and ‘poof’ quality test results are produced.”

Though their efforts may go unnoticed, the test results they generate are imperative when it comes to diagnosis.

“Seventy percent of a physician’s diagnosis comes from laboratory results,” said Minton. “We may be behind the scenes, but our team knows where they fit into the [Air Force Special Operations Command] mission. We keep our special operations forces ready to deploy.”

The laboratory team knows their patients may dread a visit to their office, but the technicians try their best to make it a pleasurable experience.

“We get to meet and interact with the majority of the base,” said Smith. “We know no one likes getting their arm stuck with a needle, but we try to keep everyone in high spirits.”

Their efforts generate everything from a smile to even being coined, but for Smith and his peers, their success is not about the accolades.

“It’s just what we do. We are professionals.”