By Alexe van Beuren
In the course of his career, Captain Richard Foote has spent a month sitting on a South Korean beach, looking for submarines; “it sounds really cool,” he tells me. “But it was February.” He has helped a female soldier with a spine injury apply cosmetics in the air between Germany and Washington D.C.– or rather, he found out what the soldier needed, and then he enlisted a female coworker; “if I’d have done it, she’d have looked like Bozo the Clown.”
It’s all par for the course in the life of a – nurse?
Foote first became interested in helping people during his senior year of high school. Foote (an Eagle Scout) and his friends witnessed a car accident. Despite his Boy Scout training, he was able to rescue one of the trapped passengers, but not the other. “I didn’t like feeling helpless,” Foote tells me as we sit in the kitchen of his Water Valley home. And so began his desire to help people.
Foote has worked as an emergency medical technician, a hospital corpsman, a field medic, and now – finally – as a flight nurse (nurses with backgrounds in emergency and critical care who work in the helicopters and planes that move the ill and injured). He has worked in civilian hospitals and for the military; as an active Reservist, Foote spent twelve years in the Navy (that’s when he spent that time looking for submarines) and has been deployed twice during his time in the Air Force.
Most recently, Foote spent fifteen months in our nation’s capital, working as a nurse on the flights between Germany and the base in D.C. Whenever any American soldier is wounded, they are airlifted first to Germany, then across the ocean to Washington, and from there, onto whatever hospital is closest to their families. “And this all happens within 72 hours,” Foote tells me. “From the time they are injured.”
Apparently, Foote is good at his job. As an officer in charge of education training, Foote was deemed the “Outstanding Reserve Officer Assigned to an Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron” and his teaching projects are used as benchmarks throughout the rest of the Air Force.
When I ask for details from his time in service, Foote smiles, then refuses in a gentle way. He prefers not to tell specific stories about his patients; still, he says that while it was hard being away from his family, taking care of America’s soldiers made it worthwhile.
“Are you done with being deployed?” I ask.
We are sitting on the couch in Foote’s living room. Foote looks at his wife, Heather; at their toddler, who is playing with a toy boat; at their three-month-old son, who sits calmly in a swing. “I’m done volunteering,” he tells me.
Foote’s the first to admit that his career has been hard for the family. “I missed Jack walking and crawling,” Foote states. “I missed Spencer turning over for the first time. I’m one hundred percent sure I’ll be deployed again, but it won’t be because I volunteered. I support what we’re doing,” Foote adds. “But Heather’s trying to finish school, and we have two babies.”
Foote’s last deployment ended in December. In January, Foote began his career as a civilian flight nurse working for the Hospital Wing, a non-profit in Memphis that airlifts the ill and injured within a 150-mile radius. He works two days a week-as in two twenty-four-hour shifts. “The Wing,” as the helicopter is known, averages 6 flights a day. “We may not have as many patients a day,” Foote says, “but the patients we have are really sick.”
Though he’s not on active duty, Foote still spends several weekends a month at the Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama, where he is in charge of training nurses in patients’ safety.
“The only way I’ll ever leave the Air Force,” Foote says, “is if Heather tells me I need to, or if I start thinking I’m not enjoying it.”