Deployed aeromedical evac team adds critical role

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michael Charles
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
There is nothing typical about an aeromedical evacuation mission. Recently one crew of aeromedical technicians was notified prior to take-off that, aside from six patients, their aircraft, a C-17, would also be needed to transport three aircraft engines and two pallets of cargo.

"That for us is the 'fog of war,'" said Lt. Col. Bryan Castle, 379th EAES Crew Director. "That is the time we're trying to organize the aircraft so that it's useable for our patients and to ultimately perform the mission."

Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron are on alert day and night to help patients in need throughout the region. Each month the squadron moves approximately 120 service members and civilians.

The squadron recently was alerted for an emergency evacuation mission to Djibouti, Africa, in which a Department of Defense civilian was suffering from a heart condition. The AE crew quickly got dressed and made their way to the squadron. While there, they received intelligence briefings on their patient, including the treatments needed and which team members will have what duties during the mission.

"We try and familiarize ourselves with each patient beforehand," said Castle. "It is important for the evacuation team to familiarize ourselves with each patient so we know what to expect."

An AE crew normally consists of anywhere from three to five individuals. However, in severe cases in which a patient is in critical condition, the 379th EAES provides a three-man critical care air transportation team or "CCAT" on the mission. The CCAT includes a physician specializing in emergency medicine, anesthesiology and surgery, along with a critical care nurse and a respiratory technician.

"We work closely as a team to take care of our critically wounded patients," said Maj. Michael Arocho, CCAT emergency physician. "There are times when our wounded service members or DOD civilians need emergency medical equipment for their care; we provide the help in operating these important pieces of equipment."

During the alert, the squadron coordinated air travel with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron for C-17 support. Normally to carry out the mission the team partners with a C-130 unit or a C-17 unit for transportation, depending on the amount of patients and the distance of travel.

During any evacuation mission these squadrons act as one to provide care as quickly and effectively as possible. Impacting lives is something you never forget, said Capt. Tyrus Scott, 816th EAS C-17 pilot.

"We delivered them the most expeditious care you can possibly get," said Scott. "AE missions are the most rewarding missions. You directly see the lives you're impacting."

Traveling to the location of patients is not a time for relaxation, however. During the flight the AE team is constantly preparing to make each patient's trip comfortable and prepping every station with the medicine and supplies needed.

"From the time we receive an alert to the time we receive the injured individual, everything we do is to provide the best possible care," said Senior Airman Samantha Davis, 379 EAES medical technician

Upon arrival in Djibouti, the local medical squadron transported the injured individual to the aircraft where the AE team was waiting.

"It is usually a quick turnaround between when we land and receiving our patients," Davis added. "We try and get them into our care as soon as possible. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, how fast we make this transition can determine how the likelihood of a successful recovery."

After the patients have been escorted onto the aircraft and it has been fueled, The AE team members split off to their respective patients of care. A little more than an hour after arriving, the aircraft is now on to its next destination - Ramstein, Air Base, Germany.

During the flight, patient vital signs are carefully monitored and medication is administered.

"I've received excellent care ever since my incident," said Leigh Walker, a patient stationed at Djibouti, Africa. "Everyone has been so helpful and concerned about my well-being. It's a blessing."

"There's really no words to describe it, said Airman 1st Class Loomis, 816th EAS C-17 loadmaster. "To provide this service is something that you know each of their families would provide for them if they could, but it's a good feeling to know that I can do it."

Once the team arrived at Ramstein, Walker's care was transferred to the custody of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the team headed back to their deployed location to prepare for the next mission.

Within the stretch of a day the injured patient had been transported from a small base in Africa to Germany to allow the proper treatment needed to fully recover.

"It takes a team to provide care to our injured service members, said Castle. "These individuals have made sacrifices in their dedication to duty and we will not hesitate to provide the medical care they need should an injury occur."