Frontlines change, but the battle to save lives remains the same for both Air Force Capt. Lara Dean and her mother, retired Tech. Sgt. Debbie Dean of the Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City.
This mother and daughter team not only complements each other in terms of achievement but are bound by sacred oath defined by their family’s military heritage.
As with most military children, the idea of following a parent’s footstep is one of respect, tradition and service. Most who trend in this direction somehow have the most significant impact, not only with their own families but within the communities they live in and often for the greater good.
The elder Dean spent 18 and a half years with the Air National Guard and, during her first enlistment with the U.S. Air Force, was awarded a commendation medal for her efforts engineering a process in the base contracting office that saved numerous staff-hours tracking purchases. This updated methodology allowed her command to efficiently reconcile vendors and credit card purchases to which she also received a cash award, equating to the overall savings as a result of her changes.
Several years after retirement, Debbie Dean continued her service, helping veterans as an organizer of outdoor activities using Facebook Groups. She wanted to focus on coping skills for female veterans through such outdoor activities as kayaking, fishing and hiking. This fueled her passion for starting the group, Be Adventurous Oklahoma!
Since 2017, she has helped numerous women deal with PTSD-related issues through the same activities and was recently tapped by Veteran Affairs to join their outdoor programs.
Debbie states these types of activities “calms their anxiety and allows the healing process to take place when the soul is at rest out in Nature.”
The younger Dean experienced opportunities not afforded to high school peers when she traveled overseas with her mother to places like Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Hawaii. At age 17, her mother took her to various recruiters but decided on the Air National Guard several years later.
Capt. Dean, now a physician assigned to the 137th Special Operations Medical Group, is also an anesthesiologist at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center who was stationed at Balad Air Base in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from June through November 2008.
Prior to her commission and medical residency, then Staff Sgt. Dean served as a medical technician in a field hospital treating hundreds of Iraqi civilians, police and military personnel wounded from insurgent attacks on U.S. military and coalition forces.
She treated mortar and IED blast injuries to minor cuts and bruises, seeing over a hundred patients during her four-month deployment.
Today, she again finds herself in harm’s way fighting another war against the COVID-19 pandemic, putting herself in the path of this pathogen to save the community she loves.
As a level one trauma center, health care professionals at OU Medicine are required to see patients before determining if COVID-19 is present. As an anesthesiologist, the “droplet-producing procedure” of intubating patients puts her at a higher risk of infection, due to the lack of personal protective equipment or PPE.
“The N95 mask has the appropriate filtration but is a single-use mask,” states Dr. Dean, lamenting she has little choice but to reuse it when dealing with other patients.
“Anesthesia is at the forefront of saving our patients, of getting their airways clear; we are the experts and ready to respond, but there is the giant fear of contracting this horrible disease and bringing it home to our families—exposing other people,” she added.
“We're on the frontlines but the least protected. The fear isn’t going to stop me from doing my job; I’m still going to show up because that’s what we do. This is what I’ve learned from my mother and family.”
Rarchar S. Tortorello was awarded the Air Force’s Airman’s Medal for heroism involving voluntary risk of life after the largest terrorist attack against American forces on June 25, 1996, at Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia. Actively supporting the Veteran community nationwide, he appeals disability claims up to the Board of Veterans Appeals.