War on Terrorism

Monday, April 19, 2010

Balad becomes divert base for wounded troops

by Airman 1st Class Allison M. Boehm
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

4/19/2010 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- Senior U.S. Air Forces Central Command medical officers have temporarily named Joint Base Balad as the new hub for all aeromedical evacuations following worldwide air travel disruptions caused by ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruptions.

The Air Force Theater Hospital received its first four medical evacuation patients April 17, here.

Flights transporting medically ill and wounded requiring urgent or higher care are normally routed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. However, due to the volcanic ash plumes over Europe, that is no longer a safe option and routing them through JB Balad, patients will be able to be moved quickly and safely to stateside hospitals.

"Bringing together the executive staff and subject-matter experts early in the contingency planning, it was clear we had the right expertise to develop and execute a successful plan," said Col. Dennis Beatty, the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group deputy commander. "Once the executive team settled on an expansion course of action, the entire hospital staff pitched in and executed the plan within seven hours, optimizing the hospital infrastructure and preparing to take on this crucial mission."

The new mission is bringing the types of combat injuries JB Balad's medical staff hasn't seen in a while.

"As we have been drawing down in (Operation Iraqi Freedom) we have been seeing fewer battle injuries," said Capt. XJ Ethan Moses, a 332nd Expeditionary Aeromedical Squadron flight surgeon. "While our numbers have remained steady over the years, the severity of injuries has gone down. We will see a reversal of that as we anticipate receiving more and more battle injuries from Bagram."

The medical staff is geared up for the sudden high-paced operations tempo.

"I feel that we are ready," said Chief Master Sgt. John Elder, the 332nd EMDG superintendent. "The Airmen in the medical group really worked hard and increased our expansion capabilities in less than 24 hours. As more patients come in, we will be able to adjust quickly and ensure our troops are taken care of. I am so proud of these Airmen and I am confident we are up for the challenge."

Officials believe JB Balad's hospital will remain a divert location until normal flights to Germany can be resumed.

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