Flight medic shows pride with her ride

  • Published
  • By Gene H. Hughes
  • 908th Airlift Wing
A person's choice of transportation says a lot about them. The make, model, color and accessories; even the choice of bumper sticker lets you know what type of individual is behind the wheel. While some cars might keep you guessing, there are others that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination.

Master Sgt. Caterina Durham of the 908th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron has just such a vehicle.

If you drive around Maxwell Air Force Base with any frequency, chances are you've seen her, even if you don't know her by sight. But you'd recognize the car; a sleek, black and gold 2009 HUMMER H3T, custom painted with scenes honoring her heritage and military service.

She purchased the vehicle right off the assembly line and she knew she wanted to have it custom painted. So she contacted Bo Pittman of Wetumpka and started to save her pennies. When she started thinking of a possible mural design that would bring together both her Native American (Cherokee and Iroquois) and military connections, the ideas just started to flow.

"I went to Pittman and told him my vision of incorporating these two aspects and portraying it in ghostly images," she said. "He was excited to get started. We sat down a couple of times to brainstorm, I brought him some personal pictures and he researched native ideas ... and this is the finished product. How exciting."

But why a black-and-gold color scheme? It might have something to do with the fact that Durham is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steeler fan.

Durham joined the 908th AES in 2001, 11 days after her 32nd birthday. She has deployed three times in her capacity as a flight medic, picking up and caring for wounded personnel while they were transported to more advanced treatment centers or home to their units. She said it's the best job she's ever had.

"It was very humbling, very rewarding and very hard at times," she said. "It's an honor and a privilege to take care of those who are fighting for the cause and getting them home to recover."

When she came off deployment, she heard the Financial Management Office was looking for some help and wanting to take a break from her medical duties, she went to work in FM as a customer service and travel voucher specialist, helping with research assistance and special projects. She said it entailed knowing the regulations well enough to know where to look for information, having good people skills and "a lot of patience."

"The similarities are that I'm working with people and being familiar with the regulations," she said. "The mentality is different because you're working with a different type of client."

The driver side door is an actual depiction of Durham, watched over by her guardian angel, a medicine man. Other artwork includes:

Left passenger door: A C-130 Hercules releasing its flares. "I love the C-130. My first deployment, I felt the flares go off a couple of times."

Right front door: Soldiers treating and protecting a fallen comrade while a medicine man watches over them.

Right rear door: A spectral horse, a universal sign of strength, power, freedom and loyalty. "Before I go on a mission, the Good Lord/Great Spirit and I have a moment with each other and I ask for these things so I can do my job to the best of my abilities."

Tailgate right side: Taken from an old photograph, it depicts Durham, her horse, Hardtime Buck, and her dog, Loachapoka. "That pic says it all about me. If you really look at it you will see what I mean."

Tailgate left side: The Airman's Creed. "That's self-explanatory."

Durham has received many "thumbs up" from pedestrians and other drivers, some even nudging closer to get a better look at the decorative pictures. The most common reaction, she said, is "Hey, I love your truck."

"Several pictures have been taken while people pass by, she said. "They will get as close as they can to snap a shot, and sometimes they get real close. In parking lots I have had several requests for pictures, and then have been thanked for my service."

Now that she's reached all of her goals as a flight medic, she's moving into the health administrative department as part of the ground support team. But whatever lies on the road ahead, she's definitely got the wheels to get her where she's going.

"I want to learn every aspect of AES I can," she said. "I'm looking forward to the systems knowledge and challenges heading my way."