Joint Training Bonds Aeromedical Evacuation Airmen
by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Olsen
January 5, 2019
This is not your run-of-the-mill training flight.
The first clue is the three different squadron patches on the Reserve Citizen Airmen’s flight suits: the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron’s (AES) “Alis Aquilae” - On Eagles’ Wings, the 45th AES’s “Global Care,” and the 439th AES’s “Delivering America’s Promise.”
Eleven AES Airmen boarded a C-17 Globemaster III crewed by Reserve Citizen Airmen with the 732nd Airlift Squadron, 514th Air Mobility Wing, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Oct. 5, 2018.
Their destination: Barbers Point, Hawaii.
The 514th AES is with the 514th AMW at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the 45th is assigned to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and the 439th is located at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts. All the units are with Air Force Reserve Command.
For the next three days, the three AES units trained together on board the C-17. For most of the Airmen, this was the first time they have trained together as a group.
“Training with other squadrons is a great opportunity to learn new techniques and improve upon our training processes,” said Capt. Allison L. Riley, a 514th AES flight nurse.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Allison L. Riley, left, a flight nurse with the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron (AES), 514th Air Mobility Wing, checks paperwork for 1st Lt. Bogdan N. Suciu, center, a flight nurse with the 439th AES, Senior Airman Darius L. Wilson, an aeromedical evacuation technician with the 45th AES during a joint training mission with the 514th AES, 45th AES, and the 439th AES at Barbers Point, Hawaii Oct. 6, 2018. The 514th is an Air Force Reserve Command unit at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. The 45th and the 439th AES are Air Force Reserve Command units from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
The training is important on another level: When aeromedical evacuation nurses and technicians deploy, they do it in groups comprised of personnel from different aeromedical evacuation squadrons. These groups are often referred to as “rainbow” units.
“This training will enable us to work together more cohesively when we deploy,” said Master Sgt. Marc E. Golewski, the medical crew coordinator with the 514th AES.
“Everyone becomes more open-minded and adaptable to each other and their ways of doing things,” said Staff Sgt. Belinda Son, a 514th AES aeromedical evacuation technician. “You also get ideas about what you can change when you get back to your unit.”
On this particular flight there are two flight nurses and eight aeromedical evacuation technicians.
This reflects the real world where a typical aeromedical evacuation team consists of a medical crew director who monitors patient loading and works with the aircrew, a flight nurse who dispenses any necessary medications, and a charge medical technician who supervises two aeromedical evacuation technicians who set up the aircraft for the patients and tend to their medical needs.
During this training the eight aeromedical evacuation technicians took turns in the various roles they would encounter on an actual mission.
“We all follow the AFI’s (Air Force Instructions) and standards, but there are still things each unit does differently,” said 1st Lt. Bogdan N. Suciu, a 439th AES flight nurse. “To see it firsthand is a great learning experience.”
“It allows me to understand how aeromedical duties are performed differently learning from other units,” said Tech. Sgt. Maricela L. Pichardo, a 514th AES aeromedical evacuation technician. “We gain a wealth of knowledge on these particular missions.”
The training received is similar to any other aeromedical evacuation mission and gets documented on a mission accomplishment report sheet, or MARS form.
A great deal rides on this report: In order to be deployable, flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation technicians have to be certified every six months.
“When we train together, we share our techniques with other units and they share theirs; we are always learning and improving,” said Airman Timothy D. Congo, a 439th AES aeromedical evacuation technician.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Timothy D. Congo, an aeromedical evacuation technician with the 439th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron (AES), separates the different power adapters prior to the return trip to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ, Oct. 7, 2018 after a joint training mission with the 514th AES, 45th AES, and the 439th AES at Barbers Point, Hawaii. The 514th is an Air Force Reserve Command unit at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The 45th and the 439th AES are Air Force Reserve Command units from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
During the three days of in-flight training, they dealt with simulated aircraft fires by putting on self-contained breathing apparatuses, moving the patients to safety, and putting out the fire.
They also had to contend with a simulated rapid decompression.
A C-17 can fly up to 45,000 feet, which comes with additional complications: Rapid decompression at 45,000 feet means if the nurses and technicians don’t act quickly, both they and their patients could die, or suffer irreversible injuries.
And that’s just the basic training.
Then there is the medical side. Prior to each flight, the flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation technicians are presented with a list of simulated patients along with their medical conditions, medications, and any special equipment that will be brought on the aircraft. These patient scenarios are based on actual medical cases from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Because this is training, anything can happen, which means knowing exactly what to do when a patient is having an emergency.
“Working with other units helps aeromedical evacuation remain resilient and adaptable,” said Senior Airmen Kyrie A. Bretz, a 439th AES aeromedical evacuation technician. “Optimizing deployment efficiency is key to our mission.”
The emphasis on the joint training aspect is important, because someday, they will deploy and be doing this together.
“No matter where in the world we are stationed, these ‘rainbow’ missions remind us that we are a family, we are a team,” said Senior Airman Erica C. Funke, a 514th AES aeromedical evacuation technician.