Air Force air evac crews adapt, train onboard mix of planes
By Tech. Sgt. Charlie Miller, 445th Airlift Wing
/ Published May 01, 2007
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio -- Taking care of patients on an aircraft is not an easy task. What if there are patient emergencies or problems with the aircraft itself? What if it's a plane the aeromedical crew is not familiar with? These questions, and more, were answered during an Air Force Reserve Aeromedical Evacuation Jamboree held here April 28 to 29.
Five squadrons and about 80 medical personnel from California, Florida, Maryland and Georgia participated in the training.
"On every aircraft taking care of patients is the same, but not every aircraft is the same; they have somewhat different set-ups, different systems," said Col. John Starzyk, chief of Air Evacuations from 4th Air Force at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.
During two-hour airborne exercises, evaluators threw a variety of curveballs at the medical personnel. Live "patients" played by fellow Airmen feigned a number of medical emergencies such as heart attacks and seizures. A full-size, anatomically correct dummy went into complete cardiac arrest. There was also a simulated on-board fire, loss of cabin pressure and a power outage. The scenarios were designed to be as close to reality as possible. The crews faced these emergencies while working on aircraft they might have never flown on before.
"What we train on today we may well see in theater; this helps us immensely," Colonel Starzyk said.
Reserve medical personnel from California, Florida, Maryland and Georgia attended the jamboree.
"By coming here to the middle of America we save money and resources as we work together," Colonel Starzyk said. "East Coast meets West Coast, North meets South."
After the reservists leave, they will be cross trained on the C-17 Globemaster III, the C-130 Hercules and the KC-135 Stratotanker. All are the aircraft used for air evacuations."
"In a real world scenario, if I'm deployed and they say they need a flight nurse on this plane or that plane I'll feel comfortable," said Capt. Jennifer Pairis, a flight nurse with the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, at March ARB.
"I'll feel confident about the safe return of the guys back home because of this kind of training. Here, we've been able to train on planes we don't normally fly on," Captain Pairis said.
"We can see how other units take care of patients and that benefits us," said Senior Airman Priscilla Waters of the 94th AES, part of the 94th Airlift Wing, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. "We had a chance to put our hands on a C-17 with its different patient positioning. Seeing the other aircraft gives you a different training perspective."
All the medical technicians and flight nurses are universally qualified.
"We are expected to know how to treat patients on all aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Stephanie Strickland, from the 94th AW.
Medical treatment in theater is designed to support moving patients from the point of injury to the right level of care at the right place in the least amount of time
"It's very realistic here," said Staff Sgt. Rachel Reed of the 445th AES. "This is how we would be deployed. This has been an awesome opportunity to train on three separate aircraft, especially the C-17. We had egress training on the KC-135 and I learned a lot."
"This has been a great opportunity to work with different units," said Capt. Ladonna Schreffler, 445th AES. "It might be an old saying but 'we practice like we play' works well here. Everyone came from across the country and worked as a team."
Staff Sgt. John Wallace is a medical technician with the 459th AES, part of the 459th Refueling Wing, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The sergeant flies in KC-135s.
"For the new fliers as well as fliers with a lot of hours under their belts, this is excellent training," Sergeant Wallace said. "AE is always changing and this gives us a chance to learn and learn from other fliers how to do our jobs faster and more efficiently which affects the patients and the mission."
During the Vietnam Conflict it took up to 45 days for the injured to get back stateside. During Operation Desert Storm that was reduced to 10 days. Now it's three days, thanks, in part, to training exercises like this jamboree.
"This is training we should do every year or even every six months," said Master Sgt. Jerrard Mack of the 622nd AES at MacDill AFB, Fla. "Learning from the experts can't be matched. You have all the great AE minds here at one time. This training is invaluable especially for the new fliers who get all this exposure to different aircraft," Sergeant Mack said."
Air Force Reservist AES members currently care for more than 60 percent of all military medical evacuees, and all the AES airmen are volunteers, Colonel Starzyk said.
"You are used to your own location, your own procedures so to go somewhere else for training like this is very, very valuable," said Maj. Sandra Lindsay, also from the 622nd AES. "It's great recurrent training."