Air Force chief of staff visits School of Aerospace Medicine

  • Published
  • By E'Lisa Wilcox
  • 711th Human Performance Wing
The Air Force's top uniformed officer toured the 711th Human Performance Wing's U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks City-Base, Texas, May 13.

During his visit, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz reflected on the 92-year history of the school and the unique training and education accomplished by the staff to create medical experts who care for air and space operators, evacuate casualties and prevent injuries and illness.

"In the early 1900s, when aviation began to become a capability, both military and otherwise, people recognized that there were things about aviation that required special expertise, and that started in the School of Aerospace Medicine," General Schwartz said.

The general visited with public health and clinical medicine teams to learn how these organizations are impacting the health of warfighters.  Two examples were support provided during the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak and clinical investigation of the treatment of traumatic brain injury using hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Col. Robert Michaelson, chief of hyperbaric medicine at USAFSAM, briefed the general on the research being done to see how oxygen therapy might help those recovering from TBI.

"If the brain cells are not killed then the oxygen therapy can rejuvenate the cells," Colonel Michaelson said. He explained that the work being done there is "the first double-blind study" evaluating how this treatment affects humans with brain injuries.

General Schwartz also experienced realistic training for aeromedical evacuation and critical care aboard one of the school's two C-130s "trainers."  He was shown how these aircraft, reconfigured as fully functional simulators, allow training and testing in an environment with challenges and emergencies that are not possible in flying aircraft. He observed how the advanced training platforms provide realistic medical scenarios to simulate smoke, fires, and other emergencies to better train the crews for their combat missions.

"We take our students to the very limits of their abilities and beyond to prepare them for the hands-on care that they will be required to provide," said Col. Charles R. Fisher, Jr., commander of USAFSAM.

Maj. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Col. Karen Weis, dean of USAFSAM, also briefed the chief of staff about the value of the school's computer-based simulators, smart boards and game-like training modules.

"Doing this type of training is very important because students can use computer-based 3D models to become familiar with the equipment," General Pawlikowski said. "Often you don't have the confidence in the field because you are not familiar enough with the equipment. With this technology you can examine the C-17 airframe at your own pace."

General Schwartz relayed the critical impact of the school's collective efforts in being able to save lives, noting that a man wounded in Afghanistan, who lost all four limbs, died and was revived three times before reaching Walter Reed Hospital. He told the group the individual is now recovering, rehabilitating and preparing for a new life using his new limbs.

"It is remarkable what you as a community have accomplished on this young man's behalf, both at the hospital in Afghanistan and of course in transit," General Schwartz said. "His recovery should make each of you proud and know how important the work is that you do.

"Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard: if something happens to one of them, they know that they will not be left behind," he said. "The aeromedical team will do whatever is necessary to assure they have the best chance for survival and recovery."