Scanning the crowd, Tech. Sgt. Mariana Carrano looks at each face intently. She’s standing outside the passenger terminal at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, looking for someone who just arrived on a recent flight.
Dozens of uniformed people exit the revolving door and run, walk or collapse into the arms of loved ones waiting to greet them. Others stop, bags in tow, and scan the crowd for their welcome party – worried and anxious expressions turning to smiles, tears and laughter when they see them.
Carrano stands in the middle of this chaos, holding a small, handwritten sign with a name on it. She waits patiently as the steady stream of arriving passengers turns into a trickle and then ones and twos.
Finally, as if some unseen timer goes off, Carrano reaches for her cell phone and makes a call. After a brief exchange, she hangs up, folds up her sign and walks toward the glass doors.
“She’s not coming,” she says, raising one hand above her eyes as she peers into the terminal, making one final check. “She’s on a different flight.”
The “she” Carrano refers to is an Airman being flown to Ramstein AB from a deployed location in Southwest Asia due to a medical concern. Plans changed and the Airman was now coming on a later, more direct flight.
“That’s the nature of this business,” Carrano said. “You’ve got to stay flexible because from one minute to the next everything can change.”
Carrano’s business is patient care. She’s one of four Air Force liaison officers with the 86th Medical Squadron at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a short drive from Ramstein AB. As an LO, as they are often called, Carrano is responsible for taking care of a patient throughout the entire care loop – from the moment he or she arrives at Ramstein AB until the moment he or she leaves.
“We’re really just professional Wingmen,” Carrano said. “We’re here to put people at ease and help them through the patient process, and we’re typically the first person they see when they arrive here, and one of the last they see when they leave.”
This help includes filling out paperwork, making sure Airmen get to and from medical appointments and helping with any travel arrangements when it’s time for the patients to leave.
For Carrano, this is a dream job. As a family-oriented, outgoing person, taking care of people is something she loves to do. So, naturally, being an LO is right up her alley.
“I feel blessed every day I get to do this job,” she said. “I wake up every day and just smile when I think about being able to come to work at the hospital and spend the day helping people.”
Her ever-present smile may make her more approachable, but it’s not enough to identify herself as an LO. To help, Carrano wears a black brassard – a band on her left arm – that serves as a beacon to everyone she encounters.
“When patients see this arm band, they instantly recognize it as a symbol of help,” she said. “They know right away I’m someone they can come up to and ask for assistance.”
When not being asked for help, Carrano spends her time offering it. One moment she may be filing paperwork or escorting a patient to an appointment, another she may be sitting down and eating lunch with another, discussing family, health and other day-to-day issues.
In some cases, when an Airman is staying for an extended time or is in more serious condition, Carrano will also arrange for family members to visit and stay in one of the base’s Fisher Houses.
For her, a large part of the job is providing these intangibles.
“Most of the patients we deal with are feeling scared, lonely, anxious and other emotions,” Carrano said. “Just talking to them and letting them know we’re there for them goes a long way.”
Most of the patients live in a transient dormitory while at Landstuhl. They have no transportation, are in unfamiliar surroundings and all they have is what they were able to bring with them from their deployed location.
One of these patients was Staff Sgt. Luis Diaz Garcia, a military working dog handler with the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, who was recently sent to Landstuhl from a forward deployed location. He injured himself while working out at the gym and found himself in Germany waiting to get sent back to Florida for follow-on care and physical therapy.
“I really appreciate what the LOs do,” Diaz Garcia said. “It means a lot to see a friendly face and know there’s someone looking out for you.”
Having someone in his corner, helping with the day-to-day tasks and explaining events and procedures in the care loop also helped alleviate some of the stress of the process, he added.
This is exactly the reason for the liaison officer program and why the Air Force and other military branches use them. It’s all about promoting resilience, the wingman culture and ensuring Airmen are being taken care of.
“A focus on resiliency ensures Airmen and their families are fully equipped with the necessary tools, support systems and mentality to persevere through difficult situations while taking care of the mission, themselves and their families,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright.
Doctors, nurses and specialists can treat injuries and make sick people well, but the LOs are there to help with everything in between – the appointments, the visits to the commissary and exchange to buy necessities, the phone calls home and the often-confusing medical forms.
Still, being selected for LO duty isn’t for everyone. It takes someone who is grounded, cares about people and is willing to put his or her own life on hold to be there for patients around the clock.
“When I was selected for LO duty, I sat down with my husband and we talked about how I was going to be really busy, would have a crazy schedule and would probably have to work a lot,” Carrano said. “So we went into this with a plan and a mutual understanding of what this job meant.”
For Carrano, this job means a lot. It’s a chance to care for injured Airmen, to help men and women who are far from home and bring a smile, a helping hand and little conversation.
“That’s what’s important,” she said. “Being able to take care of someone and help them on their journey to getting the help they need to get better.”