Simply known as “Doc” to his SWAT team colleagues, Lt. Col. Thatcher Cardon, a 92nd Medical Group doctor at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., has been a SWAT doctor for almost two years.
“My interest in this started when I was stationed at McChord Air Force Base (Wash.),” Cardon said. “I had friends there who were police officers, and I enjoyed listening to their stories and was pretty impressed with how they served their community. I had heard of doctors being on SWAT teams so I thought I would try to get involved. My experience with battlefield trauma gained during a deployment working in the Balad, Iraq, hospital emergency department gave me the confidence that I could make a difference in extreme trauma situations.”
In 2009, Cardon contacted the Pierce County, Washington SWAT team and volunteered his services. They signed him up for the Reserve Officer Police Academy in Fife. He spent nights and weekends away from his family for the next four months, training in everything from search and seizure and firearms to the effects drugs have on people. He next attended a SWAT Basic Training Course in Richmond, where he completed training in hostage rescue, active shooter approach and breeching. He also received Pierce County Sheriff’s Department firearms training and attended a 60-hour course on prevention of and response to suicide bombing attacks.
“To say the least, all the training I received was intense and rigorous, but has made me much more comfortable when responding to situations,” Cardon said. “Though I practiced for more than a year with them, I wasn’t able to serve on an actual raid with the Pierce County Sheriff’s SWAT team because of my assignment to Fairchild, which came right as I finished training, but am grateful to them for opening up the doors for me.”
The training certificates Cardon received are valid in Spokane as well, so he contacted the sheriff’s department and asked if they were interested in bringing him on their team. With no doctor on their team currently, the answer was a resounding yes.
“The ‘Doc’ is a godsend to our team,” said Jay McNall, Spokane County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team sergeant. “The guy is absolutely squared away and fits right into our team during high-speed situations. It’s unusual for him to be doing this for us and his community, it involves a lot of personal time, and other guys get paid to do this. He selflessly volunteers to be in dangerous situations for the good of others.”
Cardon has responded to five situations with the SWAT team in Spokane. He’s been on four drug raids and one hostage situation. So far, for him, everything has ended peacefully.
“The role of a SWAT doc is to be on scene where there is the potential for someone to get hurt, whether it’s a victim, a team member or even the bad guys,” Cardon said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but if they do, I want be able to help them.”
It was a lengthy process for the Air Force to get approval for Cardon to be a SWAT team member. His leadership backs him 100 percent in his endeavor.
“We are extremely proud of Lieutenant Colonel Cardon’s efforts in serving both the Air Force and his community,” said Col. Thomas ‘Chet’ Roshetko, 92nd Medical Group commander. “He exemplifies our core values and reminds us that we have a great calling not only in serving our nation but to serve our community as well. I’m extremely impressed with Thatcher’s drive to bring his skill set to the SWAT team and in turn, his community.”
Cardon was selected for promotion to colonel and will be relocating to Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., where he hopes to continue serving with a SWAT team. During a training briefing, McNall told the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team, “If you’re going to get shot, get shot now before we lose our ‘Doc.’”