After 7 Deployments, Air Force Medic Looks Forward to Returning Home

Matt Scott's world is defined by 15-foot-high cement walls, steel doors, guards with assault rifles, armored Humvees, suicide bombers and vehicle-borne explosives.

It's a short distance to work every day, but he gets transported in a helicopter. It's safer than driving on sabotaged roads in the deserts of Afghanistan, where a thin layer of gray, silt-like dust covers everything in sight and danger lurks always.

When winter cold sets in, air quality deteriorates. "It gets wet and humid and dreary and snowy," the U.S. Air Force master sergeant from Ellettsville said. "The people here burn literally everything to stay warm, and the pollution gets very bad."

Six thousand feet above sea level and 7,673 miles from home, the 38-year-old Monroe County native and flight medic is serving out the end of a two-decade military career during which he has been deployed overseas seven times.

To Diego Garcia in 1997, a small island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa that is home to the Naval Communications Station. To the Royal Air Force Lakenheath station in Suffolk, England, in 1999. Then, wartime. To Iraq's Balad Air Base, 35 miles from Baghdad, in 2003. To Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan during 2008. To Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar, in 2012. To Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the International NATO base, in 2011.

In April of this year, Scott deployed for the final time, back to the airport NATO base in Kabul.

He is one of about 25,000 soldiers from 40 nations around the world deployed to the base as part of the Resolute Support initiative, focusing on training Afghans to protect and fight for their country once international troops pull out by the end of next year.

The multinational base is adjacent to an Afghan military complex that houses more than 40,000 soldiers and support staff. Train, advise and assist, Scott said, is their mission in regard to the Afghan military they hope can take over, providing security and keeping warring factions at peace and insurgents at bay.

"I'm training every day at the hospital with Czech and Australian and Romanian and Slovakian soldiers and with Afghans every other day or so," Scott said during a phone call from a secure area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. "Most of us here are providing training, and others are providing medical and other services for the people that are living here."

He also served on humanitarian missions twice, to help fight wildfires in California in 2007 and to help victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

His work as a flight medic makes Scott a high-value target, HVT in military talk, someone whose role is so crucial that the enemy makes it a point to target them for harm.

Scott doesn't focus on that. Instead, he keeps his supplies at the ready and his senses tuned. As carefully and as quickly as he is able, the medic goes about salvaging body parts for possible reattachment, clamping arteries spurting blood and stabilizing the heads of soldiers knocked unconscious by IED blasts activated by throw-away cellphones.

He works on patients in the field, then loads them onto hospital-bound helicopters. He also assists transporting patients from field hospitals to larger medical facilities when injuries require advanced treatment.

The days and nights are long, and the soldiers work every day. When he's not on a medical or training mission, Scott tries to find time to Skype so he can talk to -- and see -- his wife, Julia, and their 2-year-old daughter, Josie, at home in Destin, Florida, on Eglin Air Force Base on the Gulf of Mexico.

The Scotts knew each other most of their lives growing up in and around Ellettsville. Their grandmothers -- Eunice Figg and Pauline Whiteman -- were best friends.

Matt Scott spent his early years in Bloomington -- his family lived on North Maple Street, and he attended Fairview Elementary School, then Tri-North Middle School. Then his family moved to Ellettsville, and he worked baking bread at the IGA deli for $4.25 an hour. He played football and basketball and ran track at Edgewood High School, where he graduated in 1995. The next year, he and a few buddies decided to join the military.

"Some friends had gone on to college, but I didn't think I was ready for that and needed some discipline, so I went to see the recruiters. I figured I'd get out and then go to college. Now, it's 19 years later."

He met his wife midway through his military service when he came home to Ellettsville in 2004 to spend time with his father, Carl Scott, who had cancer. During a party at his uncle's house, he got reacquainted with Julia Francke. She was five years younger than him and had grown up across the street from his grandmother's house.

Before long, she had moved to Florida, and in 2006, they got married. "I have missed most of our wedding anniversaries," he admitted. "She said I will be making up for it for the next 10 or so."

Scott is scheduled to return to Eglin AFB around Oct. 20, then will retire in April. Knowing he won't ever have to leave his daughter behind for months on end makes these final months manageable. And technology makes the separation easier to bear -- he can see and hear his loved ones on Skype.

"The first time I deployed, just trying to call someone on the phone was hard. But now, when I'm talking to my wife on her iPad, she can just flip it around and I can see Josie playing on the floor with her 'Frozen' toys. She is running around and yelling out 'Daddy,' and when I was there last, she wasn't talking much yet."

He attended college while in the Air Force, and has a degree in hospital management that he intends to use when his family settles in Ellettsville. Julia Scott sells real estate. They look forward to a regular civilian life, but recognize the adjustment will be difficult.

"I am scared to death, but also super excited," he said. "My whole adult life, I have known one thing: the Air Force. When I joined, I could barely vote."

Family and friends, he said, that's what matters. "I get to go back to friends that I have not been able to see in years. Most of them have not gone anywhere. I will get to spend time with family and friends."

And take time to remember where he has been. Maybe kick back with a Corona, the Mexican beer, on his patio. Because he knows he made a difference, that his life work has mattered.

"It's impossible to measure numbers, to quantify how many lives you've saved, or not," Scott said. "But it's like I tell the young guys I train. It does not matter how many people you have lost along the way. It takes just one person to walk up to you and say, 'Hey, you picked me up, you helped me out, thanks.' It happened to me. I was flying back two years ago from Germany after dropping off some patients, and this Army guy is looking at me from across the plane.

"He came walking over and said, 'Hey, I never got those Coronas.' Then I knew.

"You see, when I'm working on a guy that's hurt, I always say: 'I'm here, I will take care of you and I will have you sipping a Corona here in no time.' I didn't remember him, there have been so many. But I was there on the worst day of his life. And he remembered me."

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