Critical care: 445th AES Airmen save lives

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shen-Chia McHone
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A soldier gets injured in Iraq and needs to be transported. A Department of Defense civilian is suffering from a heart condition in Africa. Wounded service members and DOD civilians need emergency medical attention and equipment for their care.

What do all these people have in common? An aeromedical evacuation crew saving their lives.

Consisting of three-to-five individuals, these Airmen from the 445th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron are saving the lives of patients all over the world.

"AE Operations Teams support the mission to move sick and injured warriors. The primary mission is to train, so we are prepared to deploy anywhere, anytime to ensure patients that need care in the air are provided the best care possible," said Col. Linda Stokes-Crowe, 445th AES commander.

Many Airmen have different jobs that do not require them to fly; however, an AES Airman's primary work center is several thousands of miles in the air. In the cabin or cargo area of an airplane, Airmen closely tend to their patient's urgent medical needs while flying to a U.S. military or interim hospital to receive full-time care.

"I enjoy being a flying paramedic," said Tech. Sgt. Nathan Hutchison, 445th AES technician, who recently returned from a Pacific mission deployment. "I'm a flight medic, but what drew me to this job is that you're always meeting new service members and traveling to new places."

To become an AES Airman, it can take up to 18 months of training, to include: basic training, medical technical school, and phase training. They also need to complete survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) training; water survival; flight school; a ground school or formal training unit and qualify to fly. This training is usually accomplished during a progression tour and can take up to another year to complete.

"We're always under scrutiny, being evaluated and taking tests. If we're not proficient and knowledgeable, we're disqualified from training," said Hutchison.

After getting qualified, Airmen must maintain their currency by flying and completing other courses. Their competence is formally assessed during a check ride, but they can be given a no-notice check ride or downgraded if their performance is below standards at any time.

"I never would have imagined being able to pull myself together to provide medical care in case of emergencies, but rigorous training and practice helps because the minute something happens the training takes over and you're able to react instantly in emergency situations," said Hutchison.

Although 445th AES does not have physicians, a Critical Care Transport Team can be provided for patients. The CCAT team includes: critical care physician, critical care nurse and cardiopulmonary technician. AES Airmen are also Medical Service Corps officers (administrators), flight nurses, administrative technicians, squadron air resource managers, flight medical technicians, logistics and communications personnel.

These Airmen are working hard to provide the best patient care by working together as a team.

"I enjoy the AES because we work as a team, the unit members are motivated, well trained and guided by the best healthcare providers I have ever worked with, who consistently look out for and take care of each other," said Stokes-Crowe. "I absolutely trust my AES Airmen to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, by providing transportation for ill and injured warriors."

When flying, there are different hazards Airmen face and patients are depending on 445th AES to get them the proper medical care and attention. In an aircraft, setting up a hospital environment takes time. Some aircraft require the Airmen to bring their own oxygen and remember to convert the electricity, bringing every piece of equipment they may or may not use with them.

"I think patience is a virtue and our reward is bringing home the real life patient that you get to care for first-hand," said 1st Lt. Joshua Anno, 445th AES flight nurse. "We have a chance to take care of our wounded warriors who are fighting for your freedom."

Real world training cross country missions, can take up to 16 hours. The unit flies local missions, cross-country missions, and operational missions. In a four-month rotation, Airmen fly approximately 25-100 missions, as well as supporting static missions to demonstrate their jobs to groups such as Scouts and civic leaders.

"Instructors conducting the scenarios draw back on their live mission experiences and pass on the knowledge they've gained to us," said Hutchison. "For simulated emergencies, instructors bring in realistic scenarios for patients and you have to be ready at a moment's notice."

Being in the 445th AES is a gratifying experience for many Airmen and the commander, who expresses her gratitude to serving her duty.

"I have learned that strength of my character, perseverance, and flexibility are a necessary requirement as a leader and I feel truly blessed to lead this group of professionals, who I learn from them every day," said Stokes-Crowe. "I am very proud to serve with my AES Airmen--they are the best of the best and I feel very fortunate to be their commander.