Georgetown Alum With the Blues (Angels)

Posted in GUMC Stories

AUGUST 15, 2012–Most people don’t get the chance to live out their dream, let alone two dreams at once. But that’s exactly what a recent Georgetown University School of Medicine graduate is doing. Mark DeBuse (M’09) has combined his love of flight and medicine to become a U.S. Navy flight surgeon — a general physician focused on aviators.

Next month, Lt. Cmdr. DeBuse’s career will reach new heights when he becomes flight surgeon for the 2013 Blue Angels team, the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron known for its stunningly precise air acrobatics. Selection to the “Blues” is a highly competitive process, but for DeBuse, it’s a career choice steeped in legacy.

“I very much wanted to be a flight surgeon,” DeBuse says. “My grandfather, Lt.Cmdr. Paul Tracy, was among the Navy’s first flight surgeons. He served at Pearl Harbor during and after the Japanese attack in 1941, and spent most of World War II in the Pacific Theater aboard aircraft carriers and then ashore in the Philippines treating repatriated allied prisoners of war.”

DeBuse remembers seeing the Blue Angels as a youngster living in Colorado. “I remember that being the first time I realized what my grandfather had done in WWII. This early experience didn’t necessarily spark a specific interest in the Blues, but rather an interest in aviation, in medicine, and in service.”

DeBuse’s interest in the Blue Angels was triggered by a friend – also a Georgetown alum. “I first started thinking about becoming part of the Blue Angels during my second year at Georgetown. My friend and Naval Academy classmate, Mark Lambert (M’00) was at that time the flight surgeon to the Blues.”

Standing at Center Point

The path to this point in DeBuse’s career has been a mix of service to country and training.

“I followed a slightly different path to becoming a flight surgeon,” he says. “Prior to the attacks of September 11th, I served as a naval flight officer assigned to an E-2C ‘Hawkeye’ squadron helping to enforce United Nations sanctions against Iraq. My duties mostly involved using my aircraft’s radar and other sensors to detect and track Iraqi forces and to help keep American forces safe,” he says.

After a series of non-flying assignments ashore and at sea, DeBuse began his medical education at Georgetown via the Navy’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. After graduating, he completed his internship in orthopaedic surgery at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, and then entered the Navy’s flight surgeon training program where he focused mainly on the academic and practical applications of aerospace medicine and aviation safety. He had a jump on the training having already completed the aviation familiarization and primary flight training required of student naval flight surgeons. Furthermore, with nearly 1,000 flight hours and 200 arrested landings aboard aircraft carriers, DeBuse says he possessed a unique insight into his patients’ personal and professional life.

“Historically, 80 percent of all Navy and Marine Corps aviation mishaps are related to human factors and not equipment failure,” DeBuse explains. “The physiologic effects felt by the human body while in flight–especially in high performance military aircraft–are significant and can include hypoxia, fatigue, spatial disorientation, and gravity-induced loss of consciousness just to name a few. The hope is that my training as a physician in subjects such as cardiology, neurology, psychiatry, ophthalmology and otolaryngology will help me keep my aviators healthy, and thereby mitigate the risk of one of these conditions contributing to an aviation mishap which could result in the loss of life or damage to very expensive aircraft.”

DeBuse served as a flight surgeon on a recent deployment with Carrier Air Wing NINE embarked aboard the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74).

“The air wing’s eight squadrons provided combat air support to U.S. and coalition forces on the ground during our withdrawal from Iraq and the on-going mission in Afghanistan.”

Life with the Blue Angels

When DeBuse joins the Blue Angels squadron in mid-September, he’ll shadow the Blues’ current flight surgeon until he takes over in November for a two-year term.

From January to March, the Blue Angels conduct winter training in El Centro, California far from the wintry wet weather of their home base in Pensacola. During winter training, the squadron will fly three practice shows daily, with two to three-hour debriefings following each practice. Air show season runs from early March to early November which means DeBuse will traverse the U.S. nearly every weekend during the 2013 and 2014 seasons with as many as 70 performances each season.

Until September, DeBuse’s usual duties will continue. He spends several hours each day in his San Diego clinic providing primary care for the 1,800 officers and enlisted personnel assigned to his air wing. Then there are meetings and administrative duties, which mostly relate to his role as the medical advisor to the air wing’s commander. He also routinely provides lectures on health matters and occupational or aviation safety topics.
And then there’s flight time – his ride-alongs with other pilots and air crew.

“Flying and living in close quarters with the aviators keeps me apprised of what they are experiencing in and out of the aircraft, but also serves to make me, as the flight surgeon, a more integral part of the squadron’s daily routine,” DeBuse explains.
Once his work with the Blues begins, DeBuse says he’ll still do many of his regular duties, but he will also perform a special task for the squadron.

“I will help evaluate each of the squadron’s practices and air shows. One of the primary responsibilities of the flight surgeon on the Blue Angels is to stand at center point during each demonstration flight and take notes on the symmetry and timing of each maneuver with an eye towards safety, but also towards improving each show. This information augments the debriefing of each video-taped show.”

After his time with the Blues, DeBuse says, “I will return to my remaining four years of orthopaedic surgery residency, likely in July 2015, and then I hope to complete an orthopaedic sports surgery fellowship, so I can continue to treat sailors and Marines, to serve those who serve”

“I have been blessed with a series of rewarding and challenging assignments as a naval officer and physician, including three tours aboard our amazing aircraft carriers,” DeBuse said. “And all the Navy has ever asked of me in return was to work hard, and to serve my country alongside some of the finest men and women anyone could possibly meet.”

By Karen Mallet
GUMC Communications