WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
Airmen assigned to the 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron (ASTS) have a crucial role in the Air Force Reserves for global patient movement in the contingency environment. This year, their training at home prepared them, kicking into high gear, to be ready when the call comes to help get the wounded downrange back home.
The ASTS’s key wartime mission is to provide 24-hour operations of an aeromedical staging squadron, to provide coordination, communication, and transportation to support medical care of patients transiting the aeromedical evacuation system. Medical providers, nurses, medical technicians, medical administration personnel and Medical Service Corp officers form a cohesive team to care for patients and ensure they are medically prepared for flight. The En-Route Patient Staging System (ERPSS) is the primary unit training code (UTC) package that is tasked to receive incoming patients, then holds, cares for, and prepares them for outgoing flights for the next echelon of care.
According to Lt. Col. Karen Keller, 445th ASTS clinical nurse, ASTS provides the staging area to treat the stabilized patient until they are ready to fly. “The patient is brought to ERPSS where we treat the patient, keeping them stable enough to fly to the next medical treatment facility on their journey back to their home station facility.” Lt. Col. Keller said. “ERPSS provides patient reception, complex medical-surgical nursing care and limited emergency services. The men and women working in ERPSS ensure each patient has all the necessary medical paperwork they need and are medically fit to fly.”
ERPSS can hold up to 250 patients and the holding times are 6-72 hours. Once an aircraft is available, the ERPS personnel are responsible for safe transport, enplaning, and nursing hand-off at the aircraft to the aeromedical evacuation crew members. After each flight, ERPSS personnel are at the aircraft to receive the patients from the AE crew.
“Basically, we are the care before and after the air,” said Col. Roberta Stemen, 445th ASTS commander.
ASTS has flight surgeons, family physicians, dietary and pharmacy technicians, mental health nurses and technicians, biomedical and logistics technicians, which utilize medical specialties that ensure patient needs and requirements are met once in the patient movement system. The squadron also has two Critical Care Air Transport Teams (CCATT) assigned with unique capabilities. Each three person team is composed of a critical care physician, critical care nurse and respiratory therapist. When a CCAT Team is tasked for deployment, the team is assigned to an Aeromedical Evacuation Operations Team in which they become Operational Support Flyers and are attached with the AE component for crew management and aircraft configuration, oxygen, and electrical set-up specific to CCATT needs. This skilled team cares for critically ill and injured patients requiring advanced care and enables the patient to be transported even while unstable and in critical condition. This team enables ICU capabilities during air transport.
Recently, 66 Airmen from ASTS conducted their two-week annual tour here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, honing in on those skills that they need when deployed. Lt. Col. Keller’s role as the troop commander said their two weeks were filled with on-site training that included a day at U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, where the Airmen participated in litter carry training, loading onto an Ambus and a C-17 Globemaster III, and a trip to the Warfighter Training Center where they participated in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training.
Training was not focused just at Wright-Patt, the squadron sent Airmen to the Dayton Veteran’s Affairs Medical Facility’s simulation lab where the Airmen trained on assisting chest tube insertion and care, suturing, nasogastric and foley insertions, and participated in an IV station for clinical skills.
The training for the Airmen was also conducted on the flight line and in the air. ASTS Airmen Master Sgt. Sarah Katoski and Capt. Bradley Kuhn integrated their squadron’s mission training and patient scenarios with AE chief of aircrew training Maj. Leslie Houk and Senior Master Sgt. Sean Smith.
“During our annual tour, members performed ERPSS training with the AES that included setting up an Alaskan Shelter, coordinating ‘moulaged’ simulated patients, and performed the mission from start to finish.” Lt. Col. Keller said.
ASTS joined the 445th AES crew for two “fly away” training missions July 18th and 25th. Both squadrons worked together to load the patients, played by ASTS Airmen, on and off a 445th Airlift Wing C-17. Once onboard the aircraft, ASTS transferred medical care to the members of AES. After the 2-hour flight, both squadrons unloaded the patients, and attended debriefs to assess and conclude the joint training effectiveness.
As the newly assigned commander, Colonel Stemen has brought her 17 years of operational, flight nurse, experience to the ASTS and is working on incorporating her vison of an integrated training platform with the aeromedical training mission.
Some members of ASTS have deployed downrange multiple times to care for combat injured service members. Some have also participated in humanitarian efforts. Their experiences are key to ASTS Airmen new to the career field. The two-week annual tour training events provided that important avenue for the Airmen to not only learn new skills, share their experiences but to also allow them to hone in on what’s expected of them in a “real-world” situation.
“I was so impressed watching the ASTS Airmen in action. It was long, hot days, in the middle of the summer, and a lot of hard work with every minute packed,” Colonel Stemen said. “That is what we are all here for. Positive attitudes and a creative training plan was key. I have the utmost respect for these members and I look forward to working with them as we continue to forge new, effective training platforms.”