I’m Major Heather Cereste, an Air Force
Medical Doctor. Near the end of my third year in
residency, I decided to join the Air Force. A
number of things played into my decision. I was
in Manhattan during 9/11 and got caught up in
the surge of patriotism. I had thought about the
military before, and was at a point when I was
about to enter geriatrics and wasn’t sure if
wanted to go into the traditional workforce or
explore something else. First, I joined the
reserves and decided to go active shortly after.
To be honest with you, I never thought I would
be deployed to a combat zone.
When I found out I would be deployed I didn’t
feel prepared. So I inquired about further
training and was referred to the shock trauma
group in Baltimore, Md. It was the closest I
could get to warfare type of injuries because
it’s an urban warfare they fight in Baltimore.
There, I was able to gain confidence in doing
Over five months in Iraq, my team managed
about 528 critically ill people. There was one
young baby, 28 days old. He came to the gate
with his parents with an infected arm. He
required a lot of attention and care and
resources. Everyone at the hospital, from the
nursing staff, to the medical technicians, to
chaplains, would stop by say hello to the baby.
We all did our best to keep him alive. He ended
up getting discharged; the last we heard he was
doing all right.
Iraq definitely gave me the challenges and
adventure I’d been looking for when I joined the
Air Force. The experience I received practicing
medicine in Iraq couldn’t have been had anywhere
Combat medical resources are limited, and
we’re forced to use them very carefully.
there, I was able to better understand the
dilemma our doctors and nurses face, and provide
guidance to them.
I now teach and train at
Wilford Hall Medical Center. In fact, I worked
in collaboration with some of the other care
providers to establish standard protocols.