Top Air Force enlisted medic retiring after three decades, praises Airmen

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

For the past three years, Chief Master Sgt. G. “Steve” Cum has served as the Chief, Medical Enlisted Force, bringing with him three decades of Air Force service, leadership, and dedication to the success of the 34,000 enlisted medical Airmen and the Air Force Medical Service.

Joining the Air Force in February 1990, Cum always had an interest in medicine and found an opportunity to pursue it in the Air Force.

“As a young kid, I remember watching old TV shows and I was fascinated by the paramedics,” said Cum. “I knew I wanted to do something in that line of work. When I joined the Air Force, I ended up becoming an aerospace medical technician and I have loved being part of that hands-on emergency care and response ever since.”

As with any Air Force medic, Cum’s training and passion for medicine came together during his deployments. Most notably, when he deployed to Afghanistan in October 2001, Cum encountered his first combat casualty, which impacted how he viewed his training and reinforced why he puts on his uniform.

“When I first witnessed that combat casualty, it opened my eyes to the fact that this wasn’t training anymore,” said Cum. “This was somebody’s husband, brother, father, son who was lost, and it was then I changed my entire thought process. Up until that point, I mainly focused on getting training done to keep up with my peers and be able to deploy. But when patients come in, I have a duty to be the best I could be.”

Seeing medicine in an operational setting drove Cum’s dedication to ensuring medical Airmen are ready today for tomorrow’s fight. This focus on readiness was something that was reinforced during his time with special operations and what he carried with him in his role as CMEF.

“One of the first things you learn in the special operations community is that humans are more important than hardware,” said Cum. “And investing in our humans means investing in our medics to set them up for success and ensure they are ready to respond to any scenario. Our Air Force Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, has done an amazing job refocusing the AFMS on readiness. We have an amazing team that is squarely focused on giving medics the tools they need every day.”

His time with special operations also solidified the need for cross-training medical personnel. Cum explained that special operations teams are all cross-trained to do different jobs. This was the idea behind the Medic-X concept, where all medical Airmen, including those who do not directly care for patients, will have some baseline medical capability.

“What I took away from my time in special operations is to be ready today for any possible scenario, so that every medic will feel confident and able to respond and act,” Cum said. “The concept of Medic-X can help with our ability to respond to those worst-case scenarios. You will have a primary medic there, but everyone on that team will know how to provide some level of medical care. It has proven worthy and effective in the special operations community, and it can work for Air Force medicine.”

“In my 30 plus years of service, I have been a part of an amazing AFMS family that has blessed me with opportunities to see the world and its beautiful people through multiple lenses, and I have grown so much from that.”

– Chief Master Sgt. G. “Steve” Cum

For Cum, being ready today has been vital in Air Force’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our Airmen were given short notice to pack up and go,” Cum said. “It’s similar to a wartime scenario where you’re not going to have time to get spun up. You’re not going to have time to get just-in-time training. We need our medics to be ready and stay ready so they don’t have to get ready. I know this sometimes can be challenging with competing responsibilities. The reason we are in uniform is to defend our nation, whether it’s fighting a war or fighting a pandemic.”

Over the course of Cum’s career, he has seen Air Force medicine become lighter, leaner and a more lifesaving medical force.

“When I was younger, I noticed that a lot of what we did was reactionary versus visionary,” said Cum. “Now, we are more visionary. We are working on ways to better set our Airmen up for success.”

Like in the special operations community, the Air Force Medical Service values its people over everything else, and as CMEF, Cum had the opportunity to meet many Airmen within the AFMS.

“The best part of this job has been visiting medics who are doing great things for the Air Force and the Military Health System,” said Cum.

During those visits, Cum would talk to medics and hear their stories. For him, these stories serve as reminders of the type of Airmen who make up the AFMS.

“We know every Airman is doing amazing things each day, but what makes Airmen unique are their stories,” said Cum. “I often share these stories to showcase the caliber of men and women we have as medics in the Air Force. I also share them to remind Airmen that they are not alone, no matter what challenge they may be facing.

“I think it’s important for everyone to hear the stories of these heroes. It’s what I will miss the most.”

When asked what his advice is for enlisted medical Airmen, Cum said he implores them to take advantage of the opportunities that are given.

“Rather than look for a title or position, look for a place where you can make a difference, in yourself, in your squadron, your wing and the entire Air Force,” said Cum. “Believe in yourself and get out there and learn as much as you can. Treat everyone with respect, and always have humility as you grow. Don’t be scared to act on opportunities, because you never know how it could change your life or the life of someone around you.”

Cum has one last message for his fellow AFMS Airmen.

“In my 30 plus years of service, I have been a part of an amazing AFMS family that has blessed me with opportunities to see the world and its beautiful people through multiple lenses, and I have grown so much from that.

“2020 has brought many challenges, tested us all in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and opened our eyes to blind spots we may not have seen otherwise. I have always believed that everything happens for a reason, and the way I see it, 2020 happened to force us to band together, awake from our slumber, and grow into being better medics, better leaders, better Airmen, and better humans. President Obama said, ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.’ I believe the AFMS will continue to lead, a visionary change, a readiness change, and a change for equality for all. God Speed men and women of the Air Force Medical Service, I have always believed in your power and abilities. Continue to make history… medic at a time!”