Amid Chaos, Air Force Major Finds Her Role During Janet Deltuva’s early Air Force assignments a decade ago, she provided pediatric clinical services at air bases in Germany and Turkey. While in Europe, Deltuva, a speech-language pathologist in the Biomedical Sciences Corps, picked up another skill—medical readiness training for mass casualties. It is an ability she had to ... Features
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Features  |   November 01, 2001
Amid Chaos, Air Force Major Finds Her Role
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Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2001
Amid Chaos, Air Force Major Finds Her Role
The ASHA Leader, November 2001, Vol. 6, 6. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.06202001.6
The ASHA Leader, November 2001, Vol. 6, 6. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.06202001.6
During Janet Deltuva’s early Air Force assignments a decade ago, she provided pediatric clinical services at air bases in Germany and Turkey. While in Europe, Deltuva, a speech-language pathologist in the Biomedical Sciences Corps, picked up another skill—medical readiness training for mass casualties. It is an ability she had to put to use on Sept. 11.
On that day, Deltuva, now an Air Force major, left her home in Fairfax, VA, for her Pentagon office before dawn—to avoid traffic—and began work at 5:30 a.m.
“I was already well into my day,” Deltuva recalled, when the news flashed of the first plane attack. When the second plane struck, she remarked to her colleagues, “ What a target DC is—the White House, the Pentagon.” Seconds later, they heard a gigantic shrieking noise and “a loud WHUMP”—the sound, she says, of an airplane accelerating and then slamming into the Pentagon. Her office was directly across the courtyard from the point of impact.
Within minutes, the massive office complex resembled a battleground. Smoke began filling the corridors. Deltuva’s response was instinctive. “I made sure people in my office evacuated, checked on the junior ranks, locked my keyboard, and ran.”
But not outside. Instead, she made her way to the Pentagon clinic and offered to help. With her training in medical readiness, her role would be to assist senior medical officers, who immediately set up a triage area in the center courtyard.
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“We had no idea what to expect in terms of casualties. There were some very, very injured people,” she said. One blast victim who stumbled by appeared to be covered in gray confetti—“it was his skin,” she said. As medical officers gave terse orders for IV lines, oxygen, and bandages, Deltuva responded. She comforted victims, handed out surgical gloves, distributed glucose saline and other supplies, and did whatever was asked. Air Force Surgeon General Paul Carlton arrived to take charge and entered the burning building to retrieve survivors. When he emerged the last time, “He was covered in soot and there appeared to be melted metal on his back,” recalled Deltuva.
With her cell phone, she kept trying to reach her husband, Rick—a special education teacher and her high-school sweetheart—but the lines were jammed. “For a couple of hours, he thought I was dead,” she said. She finally got through to his voicemail.
Then, suddenly, the medical team was ordered to clear the courtyard. There was a report that two more hijacked planes were bound for the Pentagon.
“We had to go back through the building to get out. One patient began screaming that she couldn’t go in there again,” Deltuva said. After helping victims to the new medical area across the street from the crash site, Deltuva sought out victims who were alone. One young man on a stretcher was anxious to call his mother, but couldn’t physically make the call. Deltuva picked up her cell phone. “At that moment, the F-16s from Langley roared overhead,” she recalled. “Several victims were traumatized by the airplane sound, but we told them, ‘No, those are our boys. It’s the good guys up there.’”
Nearby was another victim, alone, bundled up on a stretcher. “She appeared to have severe smoke inhalation and could barely speak,” said Deltuva, who reassured the woman. At that moment, a photographer from The Washington Post snapped their picture, but neither noticed.
As the day wore on, Deltuva said, “There was no sense of time at all.” She acted as the “runner” between the command post and a nother site set up under a bridge in case of further attacks.
Then she heard a cheer go up. “A firefighter was holding an American flag in the window of the Pentagon. When he came out, the military people formed a corridor, saluted, performed an official flag folding, and presented it to the ranking general. Then the chaplains gathered and said a prayer. It was the first time any of us allowed a tear to fall.”
As the hours passed and the Pentagon continued to burn, the possibility of survivors dimmed. Deltuva was asked to find volunteers to separate the living from the dead, and then was sent to count body bags. One officer muttered, “This is Oklahoma—minimal survivors.”
It was 10 p.m. before Deltuva handed off her radio to a replacement. On her way out, she noticed a young man walking and gave him a ride to Bolling Air Force Base. Finally, she reached her home, where, she says, “I was greeted with a really long hug from my wonderful husband.”
With the military campaign continuing and growing anxiety about bioterrorism, she cautioned, “Get the facts before you react. There is a lot of misinformation.
“We have to establish a new ‘normal’ in our lives,” she added. “If you choose to live in fear, the enemy has achieved their objective. And unlike many things in our lives, we do have control over how we deal with fear.”
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November 2001
Volume 6, Issue 20