By Lt. Col. Charles Gebhart, 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron
/ Published March 11, 2007
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Total Force. We are all familiar with the term. In these days of expanding missions and limited dollars, the United States military has moved the "one team, one fight" idea from concept to reality.
The United States Air Force has led the way--from Panama to Desert Storm, to Somalia, to the Balkans, and beyond. Our Air Force has faced the challenges of deploying full-time active duty assets, people and equipment, shoulder to shoulder with the part-time "citizen soldiers" of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, and we faced those challenges head-on.
Has it been easy? No, sir! Change is never easy. Especially change of this magnitude, which was big enough to rock the halls of Congress, the Pentagon, and just about every state capital in the country.
Air Force senior leadership prevailed, and the result is the most effective, most efficient, most lethal military force the world has ever seen.
The U.S. Air Force's Aeromedical Evacuation community has always been on the vanguard of Total Force Integration. Just after midnight on Dec. 20, 1989, U.S. Marines, 82nd Airborne Soldiers, Rangers, and Navy Seals began the invasion of Panama known as JUST CAUSE.
Simultaneously, Air Evac flight nurses, med techs, communicators, and operations personnel from the active duty's 1st AE Squadron (now the 43rd, but "Always the First"), Pope AFB, S.C., and the Air Force Reserve's 32nd AE Group from Kelly AFB, Texas, established a Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility at Howard AFB, Panama, to facilitate the evacuation of American combat casualties to medical treatment facilities in San Antonio.
Lt. Col. Bob Brannon, 1st AES commander, got his active duty and Reserve medics ready. He told them that in just a few hours they were going to be saving the lives of U.S. servicemen. Many of his Reservists had been at their civilian jobs in San Antonio just a few hours before.
OperationJUST CAUSE proved to be just a preview of what was to come. Eight months later in August of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and set the stage for Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.
The need arose for an aeromedical evacuation presence unlike any mobilized before. The 1611th AE Squadron (Provisional) was to be a 2,000 member AES with Colonel Brannon as its commander.
It was to have elements in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates.
With the 1st AES limited to less than 100 available active duty personnel, the answer would be found in Total Force. Almost 1,900 Reservists and Guardsmen answered the call, and stood up the largest AE squadron in Air Force history.
The Total Force Integration of aeromedical evacuation proved effective in Somalia, in Bosnia, in Kosovo -- and continues to be effective today with the 379th Expeditionary AE Squadron here at the wing.
The 379th has active duty personnel from Pope AFB and Langley AFB, Va., Reservists from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Florida, and Guardsmen from Delaware, New York, and California all working together to provide our military members with the best patient evacuation process in the world.
Air Evac is not proof that Total Force can work, it is proof that Total Force has to work. Over 90 percent of the aeromedical evacuation assets are in the reserve components. Of the 31 AE squadrons worldwide, four are active duty, 10 are Air Guard, and 17 are Air Reserve. Total Force Integration is the only answer for effective aeromedical evacuation.
The bottom line is, and always has been, taking care of the patient. The family and friends of that young G.I. lying on a litter in the back of that cargo plane don't care whether you are active duty, Reserve, or Guard. They only want you to bring their loved one home safe.
The aeromedical evacuation professionals of today's Total Force are dedicated to doing just that.