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65-year-old flight nurse still saving lives

Lt. Col. Emma Faulk, a flight nurse in the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in her second Joint Readiness Training Center exercise Aug. 18-25, 2009, at Fort Polk and Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. According to Air Force records, the 65-year-old reservist is currently the oldest flight nurse serving in the Air Force Reserve and possibly the entire Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jim Araos)

Lt. Col. Emma Faulk, a flight nurse in the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in her second Joint Readiness Training Center exercise Aug. 18-25, 2009, at Fort Polk and Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. According to Air Force records, the 65-year-old reservist is currently the oldest flight nurse serving in the Air Force Reserve and possibly the entire Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jim Araos)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- The members of the flight crew were alerted at 3:30 a.m. about their aeromedical evacuation mission. They hadn't eaten since the previous evening and wouldn't eat again for another day.

After a long but successful aeromedical evacuation mission aboard their Belgian C-130, which began at a simulated bare-base here and ended at Fort Polk, La., they were dropped off in thorny woods. They were given their coordinates and destination, spending the entire night evading search dogs and their survival, evasion, resistance and escape trainers.

The six-person crew included two Belgian paratroopers, a Belgian pilot, a Belgian loadmaster, and two U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation flight crew members - a flight technician and a flight nurse. They were the only flight crew members chosen to participate in a survival, evasion, resistance and escape exercise during Joint Readiness Training Center Exercise 09-09 at Fort Polk, La., and Little Rock AFB.

At 65, Lt. Col. Emma Faulk of the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., is the oldest flight nurse in the Air Force Reserve. She is also the second-oldest person in the Air Force Reserve by only a month, according to Renee D. Daughtry, executive officer for the director of manpower, personnel and services at Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command, Robins AFB, Ga.

Colonel Faulk is also older than any Regular Air Force, said Maj. Melissa L. Mouchette, nurse utilization officer at Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph AFB, Texas. She may be the oldest flight nurse in the entire Air Force, but the Air National Guard could not confirm it.

Most services require members to retire by age 60 unless they get an age waiver. Colonel Faulk is currently on her third age waiver. She will be 67 years old when she retires in March 2011. Hers has been a remarkable, prolific life and career.

"It's a full life," she said.

She loves what she does, even participating in exercises such as the JRTC exercise, she said.

Before joining the Air Force in 1991, Colonel Faulk was already a wife, mother and registered nurse. She worked for Kaiser-Permanente from 1982 until she retired for the first time in 1996 and earned her master's degree.

When her children got older, Colonel Faulk looked into joining the military.

"They put in a call for nurses for the first Gulf War, and I answered the call," she said.

She initially tried to join the Navy, but by the time they reviewed her paperwork, they had reduced the age limit to 36. She was 47 at the time.

"Then my husband saw a call for nurses in one of my nursing magazines; the Air Force age limit was still 47," she said.

At the time the Air Force set a special age limit for nurses to support the war. The age limit brought with it a promised chance to serve 20 years and retire. Since she had already taken the Navy physical, she quickly collected her package and took it to the Air Force Reserve recruiter.

Colonel Faulk said her husband of 25 years, Mason, is one of the main reasons she joined the Air Force and why she's stayed in and remained so active for 18 and a half years.

"He's been my inspiration, the force behind me," she said.

Mr. Faulk was a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot and was medically retired after he sustained a spinal cord injury when ejected out of his disabled F-8 Crusader in 1965. He is now a retired lawyer.

He swore in Colonel Faulk when she commissioned.

"That was a great honor for me. He is my hero and my advocate, my biggest supporter and my pillar of strength," she said.

Colonel Faulk has deployed three times - in 2002, 2004 and 2007. During the first one, which she considers the best one, she traveled to 14 countries including Afghanistan, Oman and Djibouti, evacuating patients and earning two flying achievement medals, which you receive for 10 missions into the "stans," she said.

Her contingency crew, made up of one flight nurse and two technicians, was the first one to get deployed from her squadron after Sept. 11, 2001. During the second and third deployments, her AE crew was staged at Germany and they evacuated patients out of the hot zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonel Faulk has also participated in a variety of domestic missions including Hurricane Katrina relief, help for a hurricane in Hawaii, and two JRTC exercises, including this most recent.

"It's been very challenging and rewarding. I've been all around the world," she said.

Colonel Faulk is driven to help patients and often thinks of innovative ways to care for them.

During her deployment in 2002, she discovered that patients were suffering life-threatening complications from fat emboli, or fat clots, caused by large bone injuries, when they would fly. The fat breaks away from broken bones and gets into a vein or artery -- this causes strokes or other complications and the patient can die from it, she said.

She explained this to a Navy doctor who was releasing the patients for flight and recommended that he give the patients Lovenox to prevent the complication. Since the doctors are unable to followup with patients after they're released, he was unaware of the issue, but agreed with her suggestion and ordered the medicine for immediate use.

"I'm very thankful I'm able to help our troops and give back," she said.

During a mission to Panama, Colonel Faulk's bus almost hit a man with no legs who was pushing himself across the street on taped cardboard. Soon after the incident she began collecting, repairing and cleaning used wheelchairs to have them delivered to the Republic of Panama Rotary Club for distribution to needy people. She received a humanitarian award for her work.

Colonel Faulk is just as active and involved as a civilian nurse. She is currently a public health nurse for the Veterans Administration Center at Long Beach, Calif., where she manages four clinics: podiatry, prosthetics, orthopedic, and rehabilitation, and follows through with patients to make sure they get what they need.

It will be her third retirement when she retires from the Air Force Reserve in 2011, but she plans to continue working as a VA nurse.

"I still have the drive. I still have the motivation. I just don't feel like I'm about to be 66 years old," she said. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)