October 3, 2012 – Mark DeBuse (M’09) will combine his love of flight and medicine when he becomes the new flight surgeon for the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron known as the "Blue Angels" next month.
The squadron is known for its stunningly precise air acrobatics.
“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.”
While he joined the squadron in mid-September, he’s shadowing the Blues’ current flight surgeon until he takes over in November for a two-year term.
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 140 performances.
Aviation and Medicine
DeBuse first recalls seeing the Blue Angels as child living in Colorado.
“I remember that being the first time I realized what my grandfather had done in WWII,” DeBuse says.
He says he first started thinking seriously about the Blue Angels during his second year at Georgetown. His friend and Naval Academy classmate, Mark Lambert (M’00), was flight surgeon to the Blue Angels at that time.
Before 9/11, DeBuse served as a naval flight officer assigned to an E-2C "Hawkeye" squadron that helped enforce United Nations sanctions against Iraq. His duties mostly involved using aircraft radar and other sensors to detect and track Iraqi forces and help keep American forces safe.
After a series of non-flying assignments on land and at sea, DeBuse began his medical education at Georgetown via the Navy’s Health Professions Scholarship Program.
After graduating, he began his internship in orthopedic surgery at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, 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.
“Historically, 80 percent of all Navy and Marine Corps aviation mishaps are related to human factors and not equipment failure,” DeBuse explains. “The physiological effects felt by the human body while in flight … are significant and can include hypoxia, fatigue, spatial disorientation, and gravity-induced loss of consciousness just to name a few.”
An Eye Toward Safety
DeBuse hopes his training as a physician in cardiology, neurology, psychiatry, ophthalmology and other subjects will help him keep the Blue Angels healthy and lower the risk of conditions that could contribute to an aviation mishap.
Once his work with the Blues Angels begins, DeBuse says he’ll take on a special task for the squadron.
“I will help evaluate each of the squadron’s practices and air shows,” he says. “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 toward safety…”
Finest Men and Women
After his time with the Blues, DeBuse says he’ll return to finish his four-year orthopedic surgery residency.
Then he hopes to complete an orthopedic sports surgery fellowship so he can continue to treat sailors and Marines.
“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.”