By Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 17, 2008 - Though the notion of transporting patients to medical treatment by air usually evokes images of helicopters, transport aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules, KC-135 Stratotanker and C-17 Globemaster III allow medical personnel to care for larger numbers of patients over longer distances, at higher altitudes, with a greater ability to care for the seriously injured. The 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight here cares for and transports patients from all over Afghanistan to Bagram Airfield and run missions taking patients out of the combat theater to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The crews at the 455th EAEF are mandated to be airborne within three hours of receiving request for aeromedical evacuation, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alexandria Young, a duty controller for the unit, said. This involves checking and loading 800 pounds of emergency equipment and converting the cargo hold of a C-130 or C-17 into a flying hospital.
Despite the daunting time frame, Young said, she has seen this complex task performed in as little as 45 minutes.
"[It] is always a team effort, working with the air terminal operations center, fuels shop, pilots and loadmasters," Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adam Marks, a 455th EAEF member, said.
Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Gainer, 455th EAEF commander, said one of the big strengths of the aeromedical evacuation mission is to be able to cater to patients needing critical-care support.
"Depending on patient acuity," he said, "the standard crew of nurses and EMT trained aeromedical technicians can be augmented with a critical-care air-transport team consisting of a critical-care doctor, a critical-care nurse and a respiratory therapist. This allows patients to be moved, when required, literally direct from the operating room to the aircraft."
With the combination of Army helicopters flying wounded servicemembers from the battlefield to medical care and the Air Force's aeromedical evacuation system picking up the process from there, he said, injured and wounded servicemembers have rapid access to the level of care they need.
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse serves with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs Office.)