445th AE Airmen refine their skills during cross-country flight

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Patrick O’Reilly
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Twelve Citizen Reserve Airmen with the 445th Airlift Wing and 12 members with the 349th AES at Travis AFB, California, trained on a C-17 Globemaster III in several locations during their annual training May 8-13, 2024.

This particular training mission, a cross-country aeromedical evacuation flight, ensured Reserve AES Airmen maintained the skills needed in a deployed environment.

The mission of AES is to provide time sensitive, mission critical en route care for simulated patients transiting to and between medical treatment facilities. They provide in-flight medical care aboard mission-directed aircraft with teams carrying all necessary equipment to turn the aircraft into a flying ambulance.

The training mission took the Airmen from WPAFB to Travis AFB where the 349th AES Airmen were picked up. They then ventured onward to Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, followed by Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, before returning to Ohio. Every flight to each location improved the Airmen’s skills.

“Readiness is the catchphrase for any squadron commander,” said Master Sgt. Charles Kilgore, 445th AES flight chief of operations. “We live in a time where armed forces may be called at a moment’s notice. When they travel, medical personnel go as the tip of the spear.  In the event of any contingency environment where any Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines are injured, we must be able to evacuate them out and get them back home safely.”

With the patients stabilized, the team prepared for transport. Stretchers were secured, and medical equipment was carefully positioned to ensure it would remain functional during flight.

During each mission, AES assigns a different charge medical technician who supervises the loading process, ensuring each patient is safely and securely placed on the aircraft.

As the C-17 took off, the team sprang into action, providing continuous care to the simulated patients.

“What’s unique about aeromedical evacuation is it is one of the few careers in the Air Force where enlisted and officers go to school together,” said Major Nathaniel Copen, 445th AES director of operations. “We’re not separate. Were together from the very beginning of our training from aerovac to the rest of our careers. Aerovac creates cohesion.”

This interconnection is key.

“Since we are all trained in each role as crew, we can fly in any of them and have to be proficient in all crew positions,” said Master Sgt Marjorie Butcher, 445th AES NCO in charge of operations scheduling.

The 445th AES brings a breadth of knowledge to training environments.

“We have a mixed crew of seasoned flyers and younger flyers, and it’s about getting the experience and logistics across the many time zones in a short period,” Kilgore said. “We have to learn how to work through that fatigue and rest cycles, and provide the highest level of medical care possible to bring back our Airmen safely.”

Training always covers an assortment of situations.

“We train for regulated and unregulated mission movement,” said Capt. Alexandria Cunningham, 445th AES flight nurse. “We do a wide variety of scenarios. This time, a couple of the scenarios involved a gunshot wound victim and an eight-year-old child who received partial-thickness burns on 10-15% of their body.”

At the end of each flying mission the team shared their observations, highlighting the importance of remaining calm under pressure and adapting to unexpected challenges.

As they left the briefing room, which in some cases was a hotel lobby or government facility, there was a sense of accomplishment and readiness, knowing they were better equipped to save lives in the most challenging conditions.

“The training went really well,” Kilgore said. “Some things sometimes are notional, but the environment on these long flights really signals what they’re like because the fatigue sets in. It is patient care over long periods of time. The difference between medical care on the ground and what we do in the air is simply the environment.

“The body changes completely differently when up in altitude atmosphere – vibrations, noise,” he continued. “If you take someone who already has a compromised body system, they can be exasperated in the air. It’s something we have to keep our situational awareness of and keep the patient stable.”

Completing training missions like this for annual tours ensure the AES Airmen are primed for success when the real thing happens.

“I think with every single mission you find out where you can always improve,” Cunningham said. “These missions are absolutely set up for you to succeed and fail simultaneously. We learn a lot about our own capabilities as well as the capabilities of our team members. The mission was extremely successful with great outcomes and great learning opportunities.”