Aeromedical evacuation crews provide medical transport in Pacific region

  • Published
  • By Lan Kim
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
It’s a Sunday morning on Travis Air Force Base, California, and a flightline normally buzzing with activity is unusually void of the sounds expected from the busiest military air terminal in the U.S.

The lull does not last long.

As a C-17 Globemaster III aircrew of three pilots and two loadmasters from the 21st Airlift Squadron bus their way to a parked C-17, ground crews and 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flying crew chiefs run checklists and prep the cargo jet for departure.

The primary reason this C-17 is departing Travis AFB is apparent to everyone; by and large from the green Conex box emblazoned with the international medical symbol of a red cross, situated in the cargo compartment.

The mission at hand is aeromedical evacuation, and a crew from the 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, and other AE teams stationed at various bases in the Pacific, execute that rapid AE capability alongside their Travis AFB counterparts on a routine basis.

“This mission is the standard [Pacific Air Forces] mission where a five-man crew is deployed to Travis AFB, where the mission originates,” said Maj. Twana Hadden, 375th AES flight nurse. “There, the crew configures either a C-17 or KC-135 for litter patients and medical equipment.”

An AE crew consists of a medical crew director, a flight nurse charged with overseeing the overall medical aspect of the mission and three AE technicians who assist with patient care, medical equipment operability, aircraft integration and coordination.

“The crew then flies out to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, where three out of the original five-man crew, now combine with a two-man crew out of Kadena Air Base, Japan,” Hadden said. “The remaining two from the original five-man crew sit in alert at Hickam, standing by for any urgent or priority missions there. The new five-man crew will then fly out of Hickam, either picking up or dropping off patients at Anderson AFB, Guam, and Kadena AB.”

According to Hadden, once that crew returns to JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, they reunite with their original two crew members and transport any remaining patients back to the continental U.S.

Though these missions are routine in the Pacific area of operation, the effects are anything but for the Airmen involved.

“AE missions are rewarding missions because it affords us the opportunity to serve military members and their families,” said Capt. Kai Yamashiro, 21st AS aircraft commander for this particular C-17 mission. “Without our ability to coordinate and work side by side with each other, this mission wouldn’t be feasible. Our teams work and train hard every day to be able to provide operational support for our fellow Airmen and their families in times of need.”

Hadden echoed this sentiment and stressed how important it is for teams to work as a unit to ensure patients receive the best care in a safe and timely manner.

Altogether, the 21st AS and their AE counterparts provided aerial transport for seven patients in the span of a week for that specific mission. Because two of those patients were classified as needing urgent and priority care, respectively, another important component of the AE system came into the fold—Critical Care Air Transport Teams.

When patients require intensive care and aerial transport to higher echelons of medical care, CCATTs consisting of a physician, critical care nurse and respiratory therapist are deployed to provide in-flight medical care and supervision to patients as they make their way to follow-on medical care, said Master Sgt. Virginia Holmgren, a 124th Medical Group respiratory therapist with the Idaho Air National Guard and CCATT member.

Master Sgt. Tyler Jacoby, 36th Medical Group respiratory therapist, and his fellow CCATT members, linked up with the 21st AS aircrew at Anderson AFB to provide critical care to a priority patient all the way back to Travis AFB.

“As CCATT, we are responsible for knowing how the aircrews, to include the AE teams we fly with, operate during missions,” said Jacoby. “We are constantly mixed and matched with different crews for every mission, so knowing how they operate is integral to the success of the mission because without any one part of the AE team, we would not be able to do our mission.”

Missions like these provide a certain level of pride for the aeromedical professionals who perform them.

“Whether it is here in the Pacific or deployed to one of the areas that has CCATT, hearing about the success stories when patients make a recovery to lead a somewhat normal life, as opposed to the condition that we left them in at the receiving medical facility, makes this job worth it,” said Holmgren. “We see a majority of our patients on one of the worst days of their lives, so hearing success stories is very gratifying.”