Medical team provides critical bridge between battlefields, higher-level care
By Maj. Tony Wickman, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 18, 2015
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- An Aug. 7 attack on a U.S. military installation in Kabul left service members injured, and getting them from the battlefield to higher-level care in Germany was a task assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
While the injured service members were stabilized and prepped for movement in the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here, the 455th EAES alerted aeromedical evacuation and critical care air transport teams to get a C-17 Globemaster III ready to carry patients and provide in-flight medical care to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
“Aeromedical evacuation has a vital mission here at Bagram; it’s a significant part of our nation's airpower and mobility resources,” said Col. Diane Difrancesco, the 455th EAES commander deployed from the 315th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. “The 455th EAES is the sole AE hub in the Afghanistan theater of operations. We serve as a specially trained team to sustain human life. We’re mission critical for patient movement to a higher level of care.”
The AE team is responsible for prepping the aircraft with the required medical equipment and providing additional support to the CCATT members, who act as an airborne intensive care unit for critically injured service members.
The CCATT is a three-person, highly specialized medical team consisting of a physician who specializes in an area of critical care or emergency medicine, a critical care nurse and a respiratory therapist. Their primary focus is on the care of critical patients while onboard the aircraft.
“As the medical crew director, my responsibility was overseeing the overall mission of getting the patients moved from Bagram to Ramstein,” said Maj. Jonathan Freeman, a 455th EAES flight nurse deployed from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 156th AES. “As the MCD, I was responsible for coordinating requirements with the C-17 aircrew, ensuring the aircraft was properly configured and to integrate the AE team with the CCATT team to provide safe medical care for the patients.”
According to Freeman, the patients on the flight were some of the worst he had seen but he had confidence the entire medical team’s expertise would ensure a successful mission.
“I was impressed with everyone on the team and it made it easy for me to focus on my responsibilities as the MCD,” he said. “These are sharp professionals who know what they are doing. I felt really good about our mission because it is the best care you can get.”
One of the highly trained professionals on the mission was Senior Airman Margaret Mathewes, a 455th EAES AE technician deployed from the Air Force Reserve’s 315th AES at JB Charleston.
“Each AE crew consists of two flight nurses and three med techs. As nationally certified EMTs, we’re able to assist the flight nurses in the care of patients while en route to a higher level of care,” Mathewes said. “It is the teamwork of the entire crew that ensures proper aircraft setup and functioning medical equipment for a safe and successful movement of the patients."
Mathewes said it’s satisfying to be part of the AE community.
“The entire AE system is a wonderful service that is provided to the men and women that serve our country,” she said. “Being a part of that system, being able to move the sick and injured to a higher level of care and thus increasing their chances of recovering, is just very humbling.”
Freeman said the motivation, enthusiasm and professionalism of the total force team of active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen serving as aircrew, AE and CCATT ensured the best continuation of care for the service members.
“It is tough dealing with the bad stuff that comes with this job, but it’s definitely rewarding to know you made a difference by providing critical care for those men and women who are serving on the front line for our country,” Freeman said. “It was a very good mission … we got them from the battlefield to higher-level care and that is what we do.”