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AE team cares for patients in the air

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Divine Cox
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs

When highly skilled U.S. service members and coalition forces get called to war, no one plans to get hurt; yet with conflict, comes the inherent risk of injury.  If they get injured on the battle field, the U.S. Air Force has a plan to transport them to a medical facility.

Here at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan is the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron to transport them, and provide them with the required critical care.

“Our squadron, in conjunction with other in-theater evacuation teams, provides a safe, reliable and responsive evacuation system to the combatant commander,” said Col. Russel Frantz, 455th EAES commander. “One of the biggest benefits of having a robust evacuation system in place is significantly reducing the necessary in-theater medical footprint.”

The AE system continuously moves patients from medical treatment facilities within Afghanistan to specialty treatment.

“In effect, the patient still receives world class medical treatment, while the combatant commander has less people at risk, uses less fuel, water, food, and has less space to defend,” said Frantz. This is all accomplished as quickly as possible, usually within 72 hours after input into the AE system.

In late February, the 455th EAES was tasked with a mission where they picked up injured patients from Kandahar Airfield and a forward operating base.

“During that mission, we cared for a total of two patients,” said Maj. Erskine Cook, 455th EAES Critical Care Air Transport Team registered nurse. “The Kandahar patient was an Afghan national. He suffered an improvised explosive device blast that incurred multiple injuries to his head, torso and limbs. The other patient was an American from a FOB, suffering from severe dehydration secondary to gastroenteritis. Both were picked up and brought back to BAF to be further treated at Craig Joint Theater Hospital.”

A typical AE team consists of five personnel: two nurses and three medical technicians. The medical technicians are certified to provide care up to an intensive care level. The nurses assess vitals and consult with the medical personnel that provided initial care, establishing baselines while on the ground. They then monitor for changes during the flight, adjusting care and administering medications as needed for routine, urgent and priority patients.

In addition to the AE team, a CCATT team may be required for many missions.

“Typically, a CCATT team is made up of three team members: a medical doctor, an intensive care unit nurse and a respiratory therapist,” said Cook. “There is additional training called Tactical Critical Care Evacuation Team that is required of us in order to be deployed to Afghanistan. We work alongside AE to support the more critical patients.”

Frantz said any evacuation response is triggered by a request for patient movement which starts with sending a movement request to the Patient Evacuation Coordination Cell, or entering a Patient Movement Request through U.S. Transportation Command. Once an aircraft is selected for the mission, then the AE team gets notified.

“In most cases, we get tasked when a regulated patient movement request is sent through U.S. Transportation Command to the Patient Movement Requirements Center  in Germany,” said Frantz. ”After the movement request is validated, the PMRC may decide to move the patient by air, who calls the Air Operations Center, where the Aeromedical Evacuation Control Team works with other personnel to match the right capabilities, on the right airframe, at the right time, to move a patient.”

Frantz also added that while most of their taskings are processed by a regulated patient movement request, under certain conditions they can execute unregulated patient movement.

“An unregulated AE patient movement requires planning and pre-defined agreements between the AOC, medical assets in the region supported and the receiving medical treatment facility,” said Frantz.  “Additionally, unregulated patient movement requires designating AE personnel, aircrew and aircraft to specifically support a given mission, area and timeframe. Under these conditions, we get tasked by the AOC to execute a mission without the patient movement request going through USTRANSCOM for validation.”

The teams spend a lot of time preparing and training, knowing that every mission can be critical to saving lives. If the AE team can get to a patient and transport them back to CJTH at Bagram, those patients have a 99.3 percent survival rate.

“Our squadron members can turn a mobility airframe into a flying hospital in 30-45 minutes,” said Frantz. “Currently, any injured soldier, sailor, Marine or Airmen has the best chance of survival when compared to any previous war. Safe, reliable and responsive transport to the right medical care with the right resources plays a large part in the current survivability rate.”