They flew in on short notice. They left their homes all across America; rushed to Lackland Air Force Base, in Texas, and other military installations; and got to work. They are not elite commandos or rapid-response troops, or at least not the kind you might imagine serving in our military. They are the civilian medical personnel of the National Disaster Medical System and the officers of the U.S. Public Health Service—doctors, nurses, medical technicians. And they always respond, parachuting into hot spots of disease and suffering in the wake of every kind of human trauma imaginable.
I’ve had the privilege of leading the Air Force for nearly four years, but until a recent trip to San Antonio to visit airmen, I knew little about the work of these skilled professionals. I do now, and I wanted to share their story, as one of many examples of Americans working cooperatively in a crisis, banding together in the kind of selfless service that we in the armed forces regard as a core principle. They provide lessons of leadership and sacrifice for all.
In Texas, I met public servants like 67-year-old David Diamond, a New York real-estate developer and EMT who, like his comrades, dropped everything and raced to help combat the coronavirus. Diamond, also a volunteer fireman on Long Island, found his calling for national-disaster work at the World Trade Center right after 9/11. Since then, he has gone to the scene of dozens of health crises.