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McChord airmen respond to COVID-19 on a global scale

Airmen from the 7th and 8th AS travel to Germany

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Devin Nothstine

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(Photo: Three U.S. Air Force medical airmen exit a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft following the first-ever operational use of the Transport Isolation System at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 10. The TIS is an infectious disease containment unit designed to minimize contamination risk to aircrew and medical attendants, while allowing in-flight medical care for patients afflicted by a disease -- in this case, COVID-19.)

Airmen from the 7th and 8th Airlift Squadrons (AS) on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) left for an aeromedical evacuation staging mission to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 30.

In support of the COVID-19 pandemic, a McChord aircrew flew to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, to pick up two transport isolation systems and 45 aeromedical evacuation airmen from various units, then continued to Ramstein where they will stage until they are tasked to transport people to medical care.

Aircrews from across the U.S. Air Force are staging in Ramstein for 45-day rotations for 90 days of COVID-19 support. Members of the 7th AS at JBLM flew to Ramstein in preparation for this COVID-19 support mission.

"So far, three U.S. government contractors from Afghanistan who tested positive for COVID-19 were picked up and transported in the isolation systems aboard the C-17 Globemaster III back to Ramstein where there are more advanced medical facilities," said Capt. Dane Wold, 8th AS pilot.

This was the first use of the transport isolation systems since the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the first transportation of any COVID-19 patients aboard a U.S. Air Force aircraft. The transport isolation system minimizes risk to aircrew and medical personnel on the aircraft while still allowing them to man the aircraft and provide any necessary medical care to the patient in the infectious disease containment unit.

"The Air Force has provided aid during natural disasters and famines across the world," said Tech. Sgt. Chris Bankston, 8th AS loadmaster. "Thankfully with COVID-19, we have the capability to transport patients safely using the isolation transport modules where medical teams can take care of them during flights and monitor their status."

The C-17 aircrews staging out of Ramstein are ready to respond to cases in locations across the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

"We are responding to a worldwide health pandemic, not just in the United States, but around the world," Bankston said. "I kind of look at it like we're first responders on a global scale."

The people being picked up are in remote spots without access to any equipment that would be in an intensive care unit.

"Humanitarian missions are important because they save lives," Wold said. "We don't always get to see the impact of our work, but when it comes to service missions like this, providing immediate relief to people all over and getting them to the medical treatment they need, it's very rewarding."

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