SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- After the Northeast was torn apart by wind and slammed by violent waters during Superstorm Sandy in 2014, Cmdr. Julie Chodacki, along with 400 other United States Public Health Services Commissioned Corps members, deployed to assist those affected with getting their lives back on track.
This was just one of six deployments in the past 10 years to areas in crisis where she offered her skills as a health professional to help people with their emotional and mental wellness during a natural disaster.
Along with Superstorm Sandy, her deployments included locations in the Caribbean after Hurricane Irene, to the Mexican border to assess unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America, to Liberia to treat Ebola patients during the 2015 outbreak, and to an indian reservation to respond to their high suicide rate in 2016.
“I don’t think I’ll forget suiting up in full personal protective equipment and walking down the long, lonely hallway to speak to a woman who was dying of, what was at the time, the most dreaded disease on the planet,” said Chodacki. “She looked and acted no differently than any other hospital patient, except she couldn’t leave, couldn’t have visitors and couldn’t be touched without protection.”
When Chodacki left the patient’s room, she was sprayed down with chlorine bleach before removing the plastic suit, merely because she was in the same room with the patient.
“The opportunity to provide her comfort left me feeling both privileged and humbled,” said Chodacki.
When she’s not helping during a disaster, she treats patients and works for Air Mobility Command Surgeon General’s office, where she has been assigned for the past three years. She assesses and treats mental health patients and recently returned from a clinical manning assist at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas.
Chodacki, who is a board certified doctor of clinical psychology, also has a Master’s Degree in health policy and administration and a certificate in Emergency Management and Continuity Planning. As a uniformed member, she’s often confused with being a member of the Navy.
However, the United States Public Health Service is one of the seven branches of the uniformed servicewhich dates back to 1798—with the mission to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of the nation. Today there are only 6,500 PHS officers.
In the AMC Command Surgeon General’s office, she works as the Comprehensive Airman Fitness chief, where she advises service members on topics like the new "Tween Resilience" curriculum, the soon-to-be-released new and improved AF community needs assessment, and other issues related to keeping Airmen and families resilient, along with teaching an eight-hour resilience skills class.
“The best part of my current job is knowing I helped care for Airmen and families,” said Chodacki. “For example, a few weeks ago, I gave a briefing to military spouses. “One of the spouses happened to comment on how helpful she found the Air Force Resilience Quick Reference Guide.”
She said she was proud to know that she was on the team that wrote the AF Resilience Quick Reference Guide, and said she’s often recognized by Airmen to whom she’s taught resilience classes.
“It’s fun when Airmen at the gate recognize me, because I taught a class they attended,” said Chodacki. “Today at the dentist, my dental tech recognized me and reminded me to be resilient.”
Chodacki has been teaching resilience classes since 2011, when AMC first piloted the training at Scott AFB. She, along with retired Master Sgt. Kim Freeman and Chief Master Sgt. Ronnie Tabor, were among the first trainers in AMC. Due to the efforts of so many other master resilience trainers and resilience training assistants, now over 90 percent of AMC Airmen have participated in resilience skills training.
“Resilience is essential because no matter who you are or what you do, you face challenges,” said Chodacki. “Resilience skills help keep you going and can even grow in the face of your challenges.”