Angels in the air--Reserve Aeromeds increase odds of survival

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alyssa Blom
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
During the Vietnam War, it often took more than a month to get wounded U.S. troops back home to stateside hospitals. Now, it's down to 72 hours, thanks to the technological advances for the Aeromedical Evacuation crews across the country. The 934th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here is no exception to this rule.

"I feel that the ultimate goal (expectation as well) of the patients is to be treated with top notch medical care in the safest and fastest manner possible," said Tech. Sgt. Jolene M. Koch, an Aeromedical Evacuation Technician at the AES here, who recently returned from a deployment to Iraq. "I've heard it many times; that most of the patients just want to get better so that they are able to return to duty and rejoin their unit."

Almost 90 percent of AE missions are conducted by Reservists and National Guardsmen. There are four active duty AE units in the Air Force. This is no 'weekend warrior' job, and the ten crews here rank among the top in the AE field. According to Master Sgt. Bill Anderson, Nursing Superintendant of AE, a wounded service member has a 98% chance of survival when evacuated.

They AE squadron works hard to maintain its high standard of care in the air. A front end and air crew needs a certain amount of hours to keep qualified, as do AE flyers- each AE crew member must fly every 90 days to keep his or her qualifications. But the AE also has to keep up their medical qualifications. Medical technicians and nurses need to requalify every 18 months, and need to keep their certifications and nurses licences up to date as well. They are a hybrid, mashing flight and medical elements together.

"There are constant updates in the medical technology aboard the aircraft. We change equipment frequently, and everyone in AE has to be familiar with it to be effective as a crew," said Master Sgt. Anderson.

Recently, improvements were made to the wound vacuum- a small machine that helps remove fluids and debris from wounds, all while keeping the wound and fluids sealed. Another product tested was a patient-controlled analgesia pump. It is a hand-held, pre-programmed device that allows the patient to manage his or her own pain medication administration. These improvements in medical technology have greatly increased the survival rate of injured service members.

The mission of an AE team in a deployment zone is usually quite urgent. Sometimes an AE team has as little as half an hour to set up a plane and transport critically-ill patients to a hospital equipped to handle the injuries received in a combat zone. Before the plane can take off, the AE team must go through a series of preflight checks on all of the equipment, electrical outlet locations, preparation for emergency situations as well as taking care of sometimes gravely wounded patients. This is why all of the training missions are so important. There is no room for error.

"Our mission was primarily to transport patients from Andrews AFB to the hospital that was either closest to their home unit or their home of record, that was able to most adequately care for their respective condition, "said Sergeant Koch. "The flights themselves originated from Andrews to almost literally every state in the continental 48. There are two other Continental United States locations, Scott AFB, Ill., as well as Travis AFB, Calif., each with their own respective missions within the AE mission."

A plane can be quite dangerous for a wounded service member. There is the shock of moving, pressure changes, turbulence and limited supplies on an aircraft. On the civilian side, most patients are not transported by air unless they are stable.
"It is sometimes emotionally difficult to see and care for patients that have very dire injuries," said Tech. Sgt. Koch, "Seeing young men and women in the prime of their lives missing limbs or suffering other war injuries is neither a natural nor a normal sight."

The AE job is so vital to the global mission and visible in the public eye, that when asked if he had only one dollar to give to any area in the military, President Barack Obama stated it would 'Aeromedical Evacuation'.

For CONUS missions, the AE runs seven days a week. There are several crews, consisting of two nurses and three medical technicians, who operate on a rotating schedule. A normal schedule would consist of one mission day and two crew rest days. A mission could last as long as 24 hours, depending on the patient's condition. The AE team earns their time to relax. The mission is long and intense, and then they get a few days to decompress and recuperate.

In the AOR, this standard schedule is not necessarily the case. A crew will wait until they get a call, informing them of a casualty needing transport. Sometimes a crew can go a few weeks without getting a call. Although they love their jobs, an AE crew who hasn't flown a mission in weeks is actually a good sign: no transportation means less injured service members in the warzone. The crew is always ready for when they do receive the call to action.

"What I enjoy most about AE is the fact that I feel that I am giving the best possible care to the people who deserve it most. The patients are almost always so very thankful and grateful for us to be taking care of them, even when they are the ones that should be thanked," said Tech Sgt. Koch. "The mission in Iraq is much different than CONUS, but they are all interconnected, and the actual job itself is the same; to provide excellent care to wounded service members, coalition forces, and civilians. I'm very happy to be able to contribute to the war effort in a positive and constructive way."