AES Reservists back from numerous deployments

Airmen celebrate successes with barbecue

By Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle on October 19, 2012

(446th AW PA) - About 30 Air Force Reservists from the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron who've returned from deployments around the globe celebrated with friends and family at a "welcome home" barbecue Oct. 3 at McChord Field.

Most of the Reservists, who supported Operation Enduring Freedom, have served on deployments lasting up to six months, and will go back to their homes and full-time employers in towns spanning from Salt Lake City to Seattle.

"The big thing with our AES is they have huge levels of volunteerism, and they continue to keep it up time after time," said Col. James Dignan, 446th Operations Group commander. "A lot of the folks who've returned are the ones who have been doing this for the better part of a decade, spending a lot of time away from their families and careers. They do it because it's important."

Deployed as the chief nurse at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Maj. Lorie O'Daniel, a 446th AES flight nurse, spoke highly of her crew's work in the area of responsibility.

"We did really great work there, because everybody strove to do their best," said O'Daniel, who's a nurse at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. "It didn't matter if they were new or seasoned, they made some monumental contributions."

Reservists such as 1st Lt. Jana Sanders, 446th AES flight nurse, who was deployed as a medical crew director out of Bagram AB, made her contributions by flying on more than 60 combat missions and transporting more than 200 patients at a 100-percent survivability rate during her deployment.

While flight nurses like Sanders were performing on flying missions, Reservists such as Lt. Col. John Olmedo, 446th AES Operations Flight commander were running units on the ground in Southwest Asia.

"I was deployed as the 379th (Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron) commander," said Olmedo, from Ogden, Utah. "I helped organize, train, equip, and prepare more than 40 nurses, technicians, and operations support personnel to do the AE mission."

Olmedo said he's a believer in the aeromedical evacuation system and gives credit to a total-force effort during his deployment.

"The system works," he said. "My unit was composed of Reserve, Guard, and active-duty Airmen, and we did more than what was required of us. We flew anywhere from seven to 12 AE missions per week, even though we were only scheduled to fly three per week. We even flew C-21 missions that hadn't been done in over a year."

Wing leadership recognizes the value of the AE mission, but also cherishes the weight of being back with family.

"It's an important mission," Dignan said. "But nothing's more important than getting our folks home and back to their families."

However, some families outside of Washington made efforts to see their loved ones as soon as possible. In fact, when Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Redd, 446th AES flight medic, returned from Afghanistan in late September, she had a surprise waiting for her.

"Her husband flew in from Salt Lake City to meet her at the (Seattle-Tacoma International) airport when she got back," O'Daniel said. "He helped arrange it so he would arrive by the time she got there. I almost cried when I saw them together. We didn't expect it."

Dignan sums up how crucial the 446th AES is in the big picture.

"They're the face of the Air Force Reserve," he said. "Many times when you see the injured coming back home, it's the AE face that's out there for Air Force Reserve Command. The Air Force can't do the mission without them."

Photo: Maj. Cynthia Hathaway, left, and Maj. Monica Lohr, both flight nurses with the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron out of McChord Field, celebrate their homecoming at a squadron cookout, Oct. 3, after being deployed from numerous locations around the world.