by Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
10/16/2012 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Consistent
quality is always a priority when it comes to medical care. Successful
innovations and greater efficiency can send a hospital's credibility and
patient reviews to new heights.
Medical emergencies in the military community can be more complicated
than a civilian emergency due to the nature of the patient's injuries,
but the Air Force has met the challenge and organized a patient care and
transport system that truly flies miles above any other.
Service members injured on the battlefield don't have the luxury of easy
access to emergency services. Careful and efficient coordination is
often vital to a wounded warrior's survival and recovery. Once an injury
occurs, on-scene medical technicians alert the state-of-the-art Craig
Joint Theater Hospital here. That contact begins a chain of events
designed to ensure the wounded warrior gets the care needed at the
facility best equipped to provide it. CJTH is widely recognized as the
premier medical facility in Afghanistan, but it isn't large enough to
keep all incoming patients. In some cases, that means a patient must
begin a journey on the road to recovery that begins in the mountains of
Afghanistan and leads to a hospital back in America.
Patients are transported by medical evacuation helicopter to CJTH. Once
there, volunteers deliver them to either the emergency room or the
contingency aeromedical staging facility. The medical technicians hand
over any charts, notes and insight on the patient's current condition.
For patients who can't be treated solely at CJTH, an Air Force medical
evacuation aircraft will transport them to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
In the meantime, medical technicians at the CASF constantly make sure
patients have required medications and remain stabilized until the
flight. Other support team members track and coordinate the next leg of
the medical evacuation flight.
Some people might think caring for patients injured in a war zone may be
highly stressful, but 1st Lt. Rachel Hinson, a registered nurse at the
Bagram Airfield CASF, said she loves working right where she is.
"There's nowhere else I'd rather be working," she said. "It's so
rewarding to work here because we're taking care of people who have
pulled through and are about to start a flight back to the U.S.," Hinson
Getting patients from Afghanistan to Germany and America requires a
special team of men and women assembled aboard a C-17 Globemaster II or
C-130 Hercules. A medical team consisting of a flight doctor, a
critical care nurse, a respiratory specialist and several medical
technicians travel with patients during the flight. The team assembles
at the aircraft, where nurses like Hinson turn patient information over
to the in-transit team, making certain that care remains constant and
Aboard the aircraft a medical crew director receives patients, medical
equipment and any information necessary to make sure they remain stable
during the from Bagram Airfield to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. He and
the team of airborne medical specialists become the sole source of care
for as many as 30 patients during the eight-hour flight to Germany.
When the aircraft arrives at Ramstein AB, patients are either
transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for further treatment
or sent to Ramstein AB's CASF. There, Maj. Maria Coppola, a director at
the CASF, makes sure those in her temporary care are kept as comfortable
as possible until their journey to the United States. As Coppola
watched patients arrive with various degrees of injury, she reflected on
the perspective her team has toward all who enter their care.
"Whether someone has lost limbs, taken a head injury, or come in with a
cast or stitches, each person is equally important here," she
said. "While they are here, they really are like family because we're
the only people they have to care for them right now. We do all we can
to make sure they know how much we care."
One of the patients, Army Sgt. 1st Class Russell Allen, was traveling in
a Stryker near Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the hatch he wsa
under slipped from its catch, slamming onto his head. He sustained a
head injury and nerve damage. He was hesitant to accept medical care,
but his experience at Ramstein's CASF caused a change of heart.
"I saw a lot worse injuries out in the field, especially (roadside bomb)
amputees," he said. "I thought I wouldn't be important enough to worry
about, but I was blown away by the care here. I didn't expect this kind
of reception or care. Everyone here is treated the same way, like we're
As another day passed, and a new flight arrived to take patients on the
final leg of their journey home, Coppola helped coordinate yet another
transition for patient care. This time, her team turned over all patient
information to another crew of in-flight caregivers. After the CASF
team members completed the transition to the aircraft medical team,
Coppola said through each treatment, transition, and flight, one
constant brought a great sense of pride to her and her team.
"It's so fulfilling to know that, even though this process take patients
halfway around the world, through at least three medical facilities,
and on at least three flights, the standard of care never changes," she
said. "These men and women are getting the best care medicine can offer
every step of the way. That really says something about what we
Even though the next day would likely bring another several dozen
injured military members in need of constant care, the CASF team left
the flightline with smiles, knowing their efforts meant a safer,
efficient and more comfortable journey for wounded warriors on their way