Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

April 16, 2011 at 5:28am

In-flight training sharpens Reservists' mission readiness

Air Force Reserve 2nd Lt. Kimmie Marin, left, 1st Lt. Amy Swaim, Senior Airman Marcello Yamaguchi, and Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Wegehoft, all with 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, McChord Field, Wash., work to revive Bing - a patient in cardiac arrest -

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 JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Every other Sunday, 24,000 feet above Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Air Force Reserve conducts a special training mission. 

Airmen of the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron set up full-scale emergency rooms in the confines of C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to practice providing real-world medical care to those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The unit is part of the 446th Airlift Wing at McChord Field, made up of 2,300 Reservists primarily from Washington state. 

The training complements the squadron's primary mission of providing aerial medical capabilities to ill, wounded or injured servicemembers serving overseas. Since March 2003, more than 160,000 patients have been treated, stabilized and transported on Air Force aircraft from the Middle East to Germany. Medical professionals like those in the aeromedical squadron have maintained a 98 percent survival rate, including critical care patients, with flights lasting up to nine hours. 

"If we can get them to the aircraft, they are going to survive," said Maj. Lorie O'Daniel, a 446th AES flight nurse. 

The unit also assists humanitarian missions with aerial health care like the current effort in Japan. Though the 446th AES has not been called to support relief efforts in Japan, crew members of the aeromedical squadron took to the skies March 31 to prepare and practice in case the call to deploy comes. 

"That's our goal -- to go out the door at a moment's notice," said Master Sgt. Kristy Wellman, an aeromedical evacuation technician, serving as the medical crew coordinator for the flight.

A two-hour excursion to eastern Washington and back, allowed 10 Airmen to receive training in basic medical emergencies that occur in flight. Scenarios included providing medical care to a heart attack victim, starting an IV, even putting out a fire. 

Before departing McChord Field, medical teams installed two stanchions, metal beams secured to the aircraft designed to hold six medical litters or outline workspace. Only one litter was used during the flight for a mannequin in a resuscitation scenario. Others were pulled down off the stanchions and used by the crew members for other scenarios. 

"Whatever our situation is, the (team) comes together and takes care of the patient," Sergeant Wellman said.

Conducting training in-flight creates realism. The medical teams are stressed more in flight than in static training, Sergeant Wellman said. For example, one small bump in the air is all it takes for 2nd Lt. Kimmie Marin to go from starting a routine IV to potentially causing a full-on emergency. And the aircraft presents challenges to medical standards as a sterile environment, she said. 

"The rules are that we don't change dressings during flight; we reinforce them," Lieutenant Marin said. "But the infection rate from an aircraft is extremely low."

Citizen Airmen
Lieutenant Marin was one of several nurses and medical technicians new to the unit, training with experienced veterans like Major O'Daniel. The major recently redeployed after volunteering for a four-month assignment moving patients out of the Middle East to hospitals in Germany, or "over the pond" from Europe to the U.S. 

"It's very nice to take care of our finest folks," said Major O'Daniel, whose civilian job is as a nurse with the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Seattle. Her civilian job prepared her to handle the typical injuries she saw on her last deployment -- gunshot and IED blast wounds. She hasn't lost a patient on a plane, which speaks volumes for the level of care, experience and training of the Reserve military health-care professionals. 

Reserve Air Force nurses must be employed as civilian nurses. Most enlisted medical technicians on the flight either work in a fire department or are EMT-qualified. Air Force Reserve and National Guard health-care professionals make up more than 80 of the Air Force's aeromedical crews. 

"The amount of experience we fly with as Reservists is incredible, because the active duty (aeromedical technicians) doesn't get to go to a clinic and work," said Sergeant Wellman, a veteran of four deployments. "We are doing this every day in our civilian jobs, so when we get on the plane, we are ready to go."

Aeromedical aircraft
The C-17 Globemaster is a crew favorite for the aeromedical missions because of its convenient amenities: electrical outlets to plug in medical equipment, self-contained oxygen within the climate-controlled aircraft, and the ability to move nearly 40 patients across the skies. The plane can be converted into a makeshift ER in less than 30 minutes. 

Its design allows the aircraft's crew to do its work in the most austere conditions -- remote airfields found in the out reaches of Afghanistan and Iraq. It can land on runways as short of 3,500 feet and as narrow as 90 feet; potentially life-saving capabilities for wounded troops needing urgent and comprehensive medical care not available in-theater. 

"This aircraft is the BMW of all aircraft; you get everything you need to do a medical air mission," Sergeant Wellman said. 

These attributes are no surprise to Senior Master Sgt. Derek Bryant, a loadmaster with the 446th AW's  728th Airlift Squadron.  He was there when the airlift wing received its first C-17 in 1999. The $200-million Boeing aircraft has moved everything imaginable, from Secret Service limousines and security personnel for presidential missions, through Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and Strykers in Iraq and Afghanistan, to an Iraqi MiG 25 that was dug up by coalition forces, an effort in which he personally participated.

Worldwide missions
Pilots for this day's training mission were Maj. Sam Arieff and Capt. Judy Coyle, both wit the 446th AW's 728th Airlift Squadron. Their perspectives on aeromedical missions differed than those of the medical crew. With more than 4,500 hours of experience piloting a C-17, Major Arieff said he worries less about the patients in back than the instruments and clouds in front of him because he knows they are in good hands.

"I try to fly more stable, take more considerations, and really ease the landing," Major Arieff said. "A small movement up here (in the flight deck) is a big movement down there, especially when patients are on litters."

The presence of patients on board elevates the urgency level for Captain Coyle. Otherwise, traversing war zones can become almost routine, until an air medical mission comes up. 

"When going back and forth and you have human cargo, there's a sense of purpose; it's very sobering," she said. "It just becomes more real."

Comments for "In-flight training sharpens Reservists' mission readiness" (1)

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Flight Training said on Aug. 04, 2011 at 11:30pm

What a breathtaking experience shown on this blog! Now, I can't stop dreaming to be come a pilot and to experienced this kind of training. Thanks!

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