Capt. Cody Mead, right, a Huron native, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal recently at Fort Hood, Texas, by Col. Robert F. Whittle Jr., commander of the 2nd Black Jack Brigade, of the 1st Cavalry Division. The Bronze Star is the fourth highest individual award in the military. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED
HURON — Each day brought a new challenge for Dr. Cody Mead as he led a medical team caring for thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan. He’s stateside again after seven months at Bagram Air Force Base.
“It’s a totally different feel,” the 1999 graduate of Huron High School said in an interview while home on leave visiting family members. He’s stationed at Fort Hood in Texas until this summer.
“You know when you’re tucked away in a hospital it’s very restrictive,” said Mead, a captain in the 2nd Black Jack Brigade, in the 1st Cavalry Division. “When you’re out in the field, there’s no back up, so you’re kind of the guy.
“It’s all about trying to improvise and figure something out,” he said. “It’s not like you order an exam table. You figure out how to make one.”
For meritorious service while at Bagram, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. Of 3,200 soldiers deployed there at that time, about 400 received the honor.
Mead graduated from South Dakota State University with a biology major. He attended Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and is now a doctor of osteopathic medicine. He is board certified in family medicine.
With his unit in Texas, he is brigade surgeon. He explains that that is a title that can be filled by any type of physician, although he says family medicine doctors probably are the best suited.
During non-war operations, Mead oversees seven physician assistants as well as a psychologist, social worker and dentist.
“I pretty much tie them together to make sure medical care is handled for the brigade,” he said.
The brigade has 4,700 soldiers, but not all of them went on last year’s mission to Afghanistan.
Mead joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in 2001 while at SDSU.
In exchange for having his medical school expenses paid for, he committed to eight years of active duty and eight years of reserve time in the Army. He also completed three years of residency through the Army.
“By the time I get my eight years paid off, I’ll already have 11 years of active duty so I’ll probably just stay for the whole 20 (years) and then re-evaluate,” he said.
It’s likely he will be deployed overseas again. The destination will depend on where he goes for his next assignment after he leaves Fort Hood in July.
Mead said he was a junior at SDSU when he decided to pursue medicine as a career.
“Really the Army, in the beginning, was just a way to pay for school,” he said. “And then it sort of blossomed into other things, and I really started to like it.”
In Afghanistan, he never knew what he would be doing from day to day.
“It really gave me a chance to kind of expand myself as a person and as a doctor, too,” he said.
First of all, because of the brigade’s mission, soldiers were spread throughout the country, That required a communications infrastructure that would reach across vast stretches of Afghanistan.
“It’s not as easy as it might seem,” Mead said.
He serves as the commander’s medical doctor and advisor, and as the only physician for the entire brigade.
But when they head overseas, six more doctors are assigned to assist the physician assistants at specific locations.
But that also meant Mead had those six doctors to supervise.
“They don’t know the brigade or really what to do,” he said. “Some of them have never been deployed, or never really been a part of a real functional Army unit. They’ve been in a hospital, which is a lot different.”
If the troops were in a conflict somewhere in Afghanistan, Mead would head to the tactical operations center to provide long distance advice in the field for any soldier suffering wounds or injuries.
When a medic would call in, they would decide whether the injured soldiers needed to be airlifted out immediately or could wait. Once back at the base, the decisions would be made on whether the injured could be treated there or should be flown to Germany.
When Mead arrived at Bagram, he had to make a floor plan and build a clinic aid station. He decided how he wanted it staffed. He spent time in meetings with commanders, offering medical input on any specific missions.
Mead also provided insight to the physician assistants if they had questions.
He wrote medical policies in the area of aid station operations, for example, laying out how the staff would handle it if an Afghan local brought a child to the clinic for treatment.
“It never happened to us; it’s just something we had to be prepared for,” he said.
Mead and his medical team worked seven days a week during their deployment to Bagram. He was asked if he ever found himself ducking bullets.
“Bullets, no,” he said. “We had several incidents that were fairly close with rocket attacks.”
On the larger bases like Bagram, sirens go off when attacks occur, and soldiers have between five and 20 seconds before the round strikes.
“That’s enough time to sit there and think, you know, ‘I wonder where it’s going to land.’”For the complete article see the 03-02-2014 issue.
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