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Illinois base prepares for possible war casualties

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFPN) -- As coalition forces zero in on Baghdad, there is a possibility of mass military casualties. If that happens, Scott AFB in America's heartland may serve as a central medical "hub" for getting wounded warriors to the care they need.

"If the number of casualties is great, we need to be prepared," said Col. Charles Beadling, 375th Medical Group commander.

In both peacetime and wartime, the base's location makes it an ideal center point in the national hub-and-spoke network of aeromedical evacuation flights, said Lt. Col. William Kormos, Joint Forces Command medical liaison officer to U.S. Transportation Command.

"If you happen to be from a unit in Texas, and you're at Walter Reed Army Medical Center getting specialty care, you'll probably fly into Scott, spend the night, and then fly down to Texas the next day," said Beadling. "That's the hub-and-spoke system that's already in existence."

If war casualties overwhelm the peacetime contingency care system, Department of Defense officials could activate the Integrated Continental United States Medical Operations Plan.

Under the plan, incoming patients who need critical care (for example, burn victims or those with cardiovascular problems) will be moved to the nearest specialty care unit, said Maj. Lenora Cook, 375th Aeromedical Staging Flight commander.

There is a limited intensive care unit in Scott AFB's hospital and more than a dozen civilian hospitals in the St. Louis metropolitan area may offer their available beds through an agreement with the National Disaster Medical System.

If the injuries are not critical, but require long-term care, patients will be sent on the next flight to their home station or a location near family, Cook said.

Should the plan be activated, the staging facility at the base hospital here can house those who do not require long-term care or patients with minor injuries.

"But for a full expansion capability, meaning we've exceeded the capacity of our building, we would have to go to an alternate facility," Beadling said. The alternate staging facility here would be the base teen center, he said.

"The ultimate goal is to get (the patients) patched up and sent back (to) their unit," Cook said.

Depending on military airlift aircraft availability, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet may shuttle war casualties, said Cook.

The fleet consists of participating civilian airlines contracted through the military to supplement the mission during contingencies.

"Those (Boeing) 767s can transport 80 to 100 patients," Cook said. "We have a specially designed ramp in our warehouse that we can roll up to the aircraft to get the passengers. It's phenomenal."

Officials at USTRANSCOM's Global Patient Movement Requirements Center, located here, coordinate inter- and intra-theater patient movement. The staging facility acts as a tactical arm to execute the center's plans.

On March 25, a group of patients arrived here with almost a ton of luggage.

The patients were driven in "am-buses," which are military buses configured to move litter and ambulatory casualties. Most were cared for and sent on their next flight in less than 12 hours.

"This is fast and furious business," Cook said.

The flight labored over the past few weeks to prepare for a possible activation by digging out extra linen from the warehouse and triple-checking equipment. Cook had to force her staff to go home on their days off.

"My job as a leader is not to let my troops burn out. If the numbers increase, I won't be able to give them time off," Cook said.

Regardless of preparations and contingency plans, the obvious preference is that the plan will never be activated.

"But if it is, we will demonstrate our commitment to superior service," said Col. Larry Strube, 375th Airlift Wing vice commander. (Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)

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