CASF team key players 'on the road' to recovery

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Saving lives in Afghanistan requires many different medical teams and varying levels of care throughout the area of responsibility.

Patients injured or wounded from a forward operating base, combat outpost or an even more remote location, are brought to Kandahar Airfield by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft to receive medical treatment. The airfield is home to the Role 3 medical facility, the second largest hospital in Afghanistan.

One step on their road to recovery is the contingency aeromedical staging facility, located nearby the main medical facility.

When patients are stabilized they may stay at the CASF for a short period of time while waiting for a flight to what medical personnel calls a 'higher echelon of care': Bagram Airfield, Germany or advanced facilities in the United States.

But before a patient can travel to their next place of care a Role 3 physician and CASF flight physician certifies that the patient is well enough to withstand a flight, said Lt. Col. David Lesko, 651st CASF flight commander. The flight physician takes into account how the patient might be affected by the flight's altitude changes and cabin pressurization.

"The medical evaluations must be completed, but simultaneously the service members from the Joint Patient Movement Regulating Center, assesses how many patients around the AOR need transport and then generate a 'bandage' mission," said Lesko. "The CASF Patient Movement Element works out of Role 3 to secure a 'bandage' mission for a patient."

Once the patients are loaded onto the aircraft some might assume the mission is complete, but Lesko says sometimes due to mechanical problems or weather, departing aircraft return back to Kandahar. All the patients that just left, along with others that might've been picked up, have to be unloaded and properly treated.

"The key to this job is flexibility," said Lesko.

It may be a brief stay, but CASF plays an important part in caring for wounded warriors. Some patients arrive with only the clothes on their back and without identification. Last week, CASF personnel worked with KAF Air Force personnel to help patients receive a new common access card before departing KAF.

Countries in this region require identification upon entry and doing this one little thing for our patients can help expedite their travel arrangements, said Lesko.

Though patients transition through the facility quickly, one of CASF's goals is to provide a restful place for the wounded warriors, said Lesko.

Creating a soothing environment for the patients takes a team of more than 20 medical professionals: flight physicians, registered nurses, medical technicians, and support personnel.

"It doesn't take much to make them happy," said Lesko. "Most of the patients have been outside the wire and are just grateful for a warm shower and hot meal."

Master Sgt. Mauricio Defreitas, a CASF shift leader, helps in the care and feeding of the patients. He guides the CASF Airmen in successful patient movements, using the bus and then litters to load patients into C-130Js, but for him no task is too small to help out.

"We make sure there's food for the patients, vehicles need to be fueled and cleaning needs to be done," said Defreitas.

The staff stays hard at work but couldn't complete the mission without volunteers who are on call to help litter carry patients from the bus to the aircraft.

"We appreciate the support the airfield gives us," said Lesko.

Senior Airman Ivan Jarusiri, a 651st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron medical technician, who's been in the Air Force four years, explains his part of the mission.

"We work alongside registered nurses and doctors to help prepare the patient for flight," said Jarusiri. "We do everything from taking care of IV and dressing changes, helping the RNs give medication, and even handling their bags if they have any."

The daily chores might be routine for the Airmen, but most focus on the intangible aspects of what they're providing.

"The best part of the job is knowing we're able to take care of people who fight this war and bring them back to their loved ones," said Jarusiri. "It's a very rewarding feeling knowing they're going back home safe."

Claudia Hunter, a 651st EAES registered nurse, deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. says her daily job responsibilities include administering the patients' medications to ensuring proper pain management. Hunter, who's been an RN for five years, says the daily job requirements are easy, but sometimes interacting with the patients is the hardest part.

"We see a lot of patients for psychological issues here, some of them are young and have maybe been deployed a long time and have seen traumatic things," said Hunter.

The troop's problem is addressed quickly, whether it's treating physical or psychological wounds.

"These hurt troops get the right care in a really quick amount of time, and because of that we might save a limb or a life," said Hunter. "Our evacuation system has improved over the last decade and it works."