Nurse practitioner from Hill AFB recognized for courage in Afghanistan

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 5:32 p.m. MDT

Capt. Jennifer Curtis, a family nurse practitioner with the 75th Medical Group who was recently recognized by the Air Force for her service in Afghanistan, is interviewed at Hill Air Force Base, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Air Force Capt. Jennifer Curtis, a family nurse practitioner with the 75th Medical Group at Hill Air Force Base, is being recognized for her actions during her very first deployment.

The Air Force recognized her for her bravery for putting herself in harm’s way while helping others in Afghanistan. It showcased her in this year’s edition of Portraits in Courage.

Curtis was deployed to Firebase Chamkani, Afghanistan, in April 2011. Her mission was to assist with village stability operations. She quickly learned that her assignment at the firebase located in the mountains on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan was going to be a dangerous one.

“It was a little overwhelming, but we were greeted by mortars,” she said. Indirect fire happened pretty much daily and she quickly became accustomed to this dangerous way of life.

During her deployment, she traveled to villages and schools teaching women basic health care and hygiene. “It was tough in the beginning,” she said. “You’re a female with a bunch of Special Forces guys who probably aren’t thrilled to have you there.”

She traveled 62 times with the team, helping build relationships between NATO and the Afghan citizens.

One night, the mortars hit her encampment. “Rockets were shot and landed right in the middle of our compound,” she said. “There was a lot of shrapnel wounds. People were unconscious.”

Because the camp was on lockdown, Curtis was the only medic on the scene for the first 20 minutes of the attack. She didn’t have much time to think.

“It was pretty scary in the beginning,” she said. “You don’t think about that. You just know people need help and you immediately respond.”

She went into nurse mode and mother mode and helped care for the guys who’d become her family. She quickly helped six troops and dragged them into the medical facility, where she was able to stabilize them until other medics were able to help. The troops were then transported to the trauma center at Bagram Airfield.

It was an overwhelming day. “It’s still very difficult to talk about,” she said. “I have a lot of emotions around that.”

That wasn’t the only time she put her life in harm’s way. During one of her missions, a rocket-propelled grenade injured a soldier. She quickly stopped the bleeding from his leg. While giving him emergency care, she was told that an Afghan woman was suffering a heart attack. She stabilized her and stayed with her all the way to the hospital — all while being under fire.

For her courage and heroic actions Curtis was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Curtis is one of 20 airmen recognized for their achievement and sacrifices. To read more Portraits of Courage go to http://www.af.mil.

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc 

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