Flying Hospital Staff Gives Wounded Fighting Chance
(August 27, 2009)
|KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (8/20/2009 - AFNS) -- At any
given moment, a call can come in requiring an entire aeromedical evacuation
staff here to stop what they are doing and begin preparing to care for the
wounded and sick headed their way. |
|Senior Airman Libby See cares for a patient during an aeromedical evacuation mission to transport patients July 21,
2009 to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Airman Libby is a 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight aeromedical technician. U.S. Air Force photo
by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller
The team of Airmen will pull supplies, alert additional
crewmembers, get updates from aid stations and make decisions on what the
patients will require while in flight. |
The 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight's charge is to create
flying hospitals to transfer U.S. and coalition servicemembers and civilians to
a higher level of medical care.
"Our mission is to maintain safe care and patient treatment on long aerial
transport from one echelon of medical care to the next," said Capt. Aleacha
Sanders, a 451st EAEF flight nurse.
The aeromedical evacuation crews are three- and five-man teams staffed with a
flight nurse and medical technicians. At least one crew is on alert at all
times. Prior to being put on alert status, the team is given 12 hours of crew
rest. Once those 12 hours are up, the team goes on alert for the next 48 hours.
When a team is alerted, they load a vehicle with the necessary equipment for the
flight and drive out to the aircraft, which could be anything from a C-130
Hercules to a C-17 Globemaster III to a KC-135 Stratotanker.
While there is a standard set of equipment the aeromedical evacuation crew is
required to bring, there are challenges to each mission that the team needs to
"We need to make sure we calculate for power and O2 usage so that we can ensure
we have enough supplies and how much oxygen a patient needs," said Master Sgt.
Zac Johnson, a 451st EAEF flight medic.
On the drive out to the aircraft, the aeromedical evacuation crew goes over the
patients' records and comes up with a plan for in-flight treatment.
"We formulate a game plan and determine what kind of flight conditions will
affect the patients, what jobs we will each have and determine the best location
for the patients to be placed," said Sergeant Johnson, a reservist from the
934th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in Minnesota. "As with the survivor of the
helicopter crash who had an injury to the left eye, we tried to place him where
it would not be too much effort for him to see. The patients need to be
accessible in case of an emergency, but we also try to make them as comfortable
Once the vehicle pulls up to the waiting aircraft, the aeromedical evacuation
crew flies into motion, unloading supplies and equipment and creating set-up
areas for the patients.
"We set up a mini hospital in the belly of the aircraft," said Captain Sanders,
who is deployed from the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Pope Air Force
Base, N.C. "It's important that we put ourselves in a mindset where we ask,
'What will I need if the patient takes a turn for the worse?'"
When the ambulance pulls up to the aircraft, the aeromedical evacuation crew
loads the patients.
"If possible, the most critically injured patients should be at a working level
with the less seriously wounded in higher and lower racks," said Maj. Missy
Steckler, 451st EAES flight nurse.
Once all the patients have been secured, the medical crew director or lead
flight nurse will give the pilots the thumbs up for take off. When the aircraft
has reached a safe altitude, the pilots signal the aeromedical evacuation crew
it is safe to move around the cabin and begin monitoring and treating their
"Once we're given the approval to move around the cabin, we check on the
patients, making sure they are tolerating the changes in altitude and ensuring
their comfort," said Major Steckler, who is deployed from the 375th Aeromedical
Evacuation Squadron at Scott AFB, Ill. "The safety of our patients and crew is
Upon the aeromedical evacuation team's arrival at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan,
they are met with an ambulance and medics from the Craig Joint Theater Hospital.
Sometimes, a patient's needs are such that they are treated at another echelon
of medical care outside of the area of operations.
During the return flight, the aeromedical evacuation crew often has time to
close out paperwork and reflect on their accomplishments and experiences.
"One of the most challenging parts of this job is seeing our wounded Soldiers
right after they're hurt," said Senior Airman Libby See, a 451st EAEF flight
medic. "I joined because I was sick of seeing it on TV and not being able to
help. Sometimes, I can't do more than monitor their vitals and hold their hands.
You remember everyone you care for though, and I hope that what I did was enough
to get them home safe, alive."
Article by USAF Staff Sgt. Stacia Zachary
U.S. Air Force Central combat camera team
Air Force News Service
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