Coastal collaboration perfects aeromedical capabilities

  • Published
  • By Maj. Reagan Lauritzen, 172nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The range of care that members of the 172nd Airlift Wing’s 183rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron have to be prepared to provide at a moment’s notice undoubtedly requires constant training. From burn victims to improvised explosive device injuries to critical care patients, seasoned members of the squadron have seen it all and understand the importance of identifying thorough, effective training for their team. The entire squadron – the nurses, medical technicians, administrative and logistics specialists and more – must be ready to respond expeditiously.  

“We are a complex squadron with nine AFSCs (Air Force Specialty Codes) and cannot operate with any one of those AFSCs missing,” 172nd Airlift Wing Chief of Staff Lt. Col. Teri Dawn Neely, who has been an aeromedical evacuation crew member for more than 31 years. “Every member of our team is critical to ensuring that we can execute our mission.”

Aeromedical evacuation squadrons have to be prepared to deploy anywhere air operations occur in support of the full range of military operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The 183rd routinely seeks training opportunities with other aeromedical evacuation or medical units across all branches of services. Aeromedical evacuation crew training throughout the Department of Defense is fairly standardized to ensure that teams from all branches and components – Reserve, active duty and Guard units – can respond and integrate seamlessly to mission tasking. 

“You are not going to fly with the same people you fly with from your unit when you go downrange,” said Capt. Jonathan Marek, a flight nurse with the 403rd Wing’s 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, an Air Force Reserve component. “The crews are going to be mixed; different units and a mix of Guard, active and Reserve.”

Aeromedical evacuation squadron flight nurses and medical technicians require flight hours and training on the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules and KC-135 Stratotanker, and in July 2020, the 183rd participated in a three-day training cycle with the 36th that provided the opportunity for flight hours on two of those airframes. The training collaboration between the two squadrons marks one of several training events the two units have capitalized on over the years. It provided a cost-effective, localized and safe solution to annual training during the coronavirus pandemic to increase aircrew mission readiness.

Aeromedical evacuation crews from the 183rd and 36th flew two training missions aboard the 172d Airlift Wing’s C-17s, departing and returning from the Mississippi Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Mississippi, and one training flight aboard the 403rd’s C-130 at Keesler Air Force Base. The training flights tested the ability of crews to provide in-flight care to numerous patients with various ailments, such as loss of vision, crushed extremities, abdominal lacerations and more.

In addition to the aeromedical crews who simulated inflight care, ground support personnel from both squadrons made up Aeromedical Evacuation Operations Teams that provided key support for the flights.  

In advance of each mission, medical crews, consisting of medical crew directors, flight nurses and medical technicians, were provided information regarding patient transfers. This information allowed the crews to make preparations to receive the patients, setup required medical gear and stanchions in the airframe and coordinate with ground support to ensure any additional measures were taken. Evaluators monitored the performance of the medical crews and the ground support personnel during the training scenarios.

A variety of additional team members from the 172d Airlift Wing and the 403rd Wing also participated, including pilots, maintenance crew chiefs, loadmasters and chaplains.  

“We provide a visible reminder of the Holy,” said 172d Airlift Wing Chaplain Sam Smith, discussing his and Chaplain Seth Still’s involvement in the training scenarios. “These training exercises are yet another opportunity for us to reach out to Airmen and remind them that we are available for ministry support. Many of these crew members have seen a lot, and sometimes training like this triggers emotions. Being present is important to us.”

Smith also spoke about the spiritual support that he provided to members of the 183rd during real-world events in which crews transported deceased and injured service members.

“Wherever there are injured service members, that’s where we will be,” said Lt. Col. Denise Hall, the 183rd’s senior health technician. “We have to remain prepared to deliver on our critical mission of supporting the safe transport of injured service members.”

In addition to the invaluable training the aeromedical evacuation crews experienced during the three flights, the 183rd also had the opportunity to visit the 81st Medical Group’s training and education facility at Keesler, which included the opportunity to practice medical procedures on human simulators.

The 81st Medical Group operates one of the largest medical facilities in the Air Force and is home to a simulation lab that includes human simulators that replicate various injuries that medical professionals may observe throughout their careers. From managing injuries related to explosive detonations, to learning how to monitor a newborn, to simulating a birth, to listening to irregular heartbeats, to learning how to use ultrasound equipment, the lab provides a unique opportunity for medical service personnel to participate in hands-on learning in a safe environment prior to having to apply their skills in real-world conditions.

“We want our medical professionals to get their experience here before they show up at your bedside,” said Randy Bernhardt, the 81st’s medical simulation coordinator. “You can simulate just about anything. Simulation has taken time for people to get used to, but it’s absolutely integral to medical training now, just like it is on the flight line.”

Members of the 183rd participated in classroom training in the lab and then had the opportunity to practice placing catheters and inserting IVs and chest tubes on human simulators.

“It’s important for our nurses and medical technicians to experience real scenarios in a controlled environment so that they can trouble shoot their weaknesses and increase their proficiency,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jessica Green with the 183rd. “The sim lab provides an excellent resource to practice all of the skills that they will utilize on live patients in war time and domestic operations.”

In 2020 alone, the 183rd has deployed members to Andrews Air Force Base; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; Al Udeid, Qatar; San Antonio, TX; and Bagram, Afghanistan. These teams aided in the safe evacuation and care for more than 1,500 patients.

The squadron trains for when, not if, they are called to provide time-sensitive, mission-critical en route care to patients to and between medical facilities. The 183rd is one of nine aeromedical evacuation squadrons in the Air National Guard and the 36th is one of 18 aeromedical evacuation squadrons in the Air Force Reserve. When combined with ground medical units, the Air National Guard and Reserve account for approximately 70 percent of the Air Force’s aeromedical evacuation force.

“It is so vital to our mission that we train with our active duty and Reserve counterparts. The success of this annual training bears testament to all the hard work put forth by the planners who made it happen,” said 183rd Commander Col. Stan Martin. “With all that is going on in the world today, I must say that the training was superb and enjoyed by all participants. Moving forward, I believe it is of upmost importance that we continue this type of training. It builds great partnerships, knowledge sharing and prepares us to work as a team when deployed.”