The Reserve Citizen Airmen flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation technicians of the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron (AES), 514th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, were tasked with a training mission in harsh weather conditions at the end of December – five inches of icy snow was on the ground before the training even began. The typical aeromedical evacuation (AE) team consists of a medical crew director (MCD), who monitors patient loading and works with the aircrew; a flight nurse who can dispense medications; and a charge medical technician who supervises the two aeromedical evacuation technicians who prepare the aircraft for the patients and tend to their medical needs.
Master Sergeant Mark Olsen reported on the events of the day: “Prior to mission briefing, it was all talk about the miserable conditions and the crazy drivers, but once the briefing starts, everyone is down to business. Flight nurse Captain John Bergacs, who is serving as the MCD for the mission, gives out assignments to the four flight nurses and eight aeromedical evacuation technicians on the training mission to Joint Base Charleston, S.C.” The 514th AES flew on a C-130H Hercules with the 757th Airlift Squadron, 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, in what was entirely an Air Force Reserve operation.
Space on a C-130 is at a premium, so the AE team had to be efficient when they set up their working area, which runs nearly the full length of the C-130’s cargo area. Litter stanchions – metal posts – are connected at the ceiling and floor and run down the middle of the aircraft. Straps, also connected at the ceiling and floor, are on either side of the stanchions. This is why the C-130 can carry so many stretcher-borne patients – unlike a KC-135, where you can strap litters only on one side of the stanchion. Of all the setup tasks on the C-130, assembling the stanchions is the most time consuming.
The AE team starts by setting up the litter stanchions, then installs oxygen lines, and finally places in the equipment that will be used during the mission. “You really need the team to work together on the C-130,” said Technical Sgt Donna Trader, aeromedical evacuation technician. “Everyone needs to know their position and their duties in order to make everything work.”
The medical gear, which consists of a cardiac monitor, suction unit, a vital signs monitor, IV pump, patient therapeutic liquid oxygen system, and any other equipment that might come with the individual patients, will help them respond to medical issues they may encounter while in-flight.
“Muscle memory is everything,” said 1st Lieutenant Jedd Dillman, flight nurse. “You can read about something in a book, but until you actually lay hands on it and do it, this is where you learn where your strengths and weaknesses are.”
Once everything is in place, Bergacs directs the loading of the litters. Four Airmen carry each litter and strap them in place on the stanchions. “With the C-130’s configuration, you have to have the knowledge and be well trained to configure it in the time it needs to be done, especially in a deployed environment,” said Technical Sgt Anita Maldonado, aeromedical evacuation technician.
Each Airman has a Mission Accomplishment Report Sheet, or MARS form, which is a checklist of tasks and emergencies that each nurse and technician must be certified on to be deployable.
On the flight to Charleston, the flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation technicians put out a simulated aircraft fire, worked with self-contained breathing apparatuses and M-50 gas masks, as well as ran through various patient scenarios. On the return trip, the airmen who were not trained on the Charleston flight received the same or similar training based on their individual training requirements on the trip back to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Everyone received refresher training on how to open and close the C-130’s two paratroop doors and the crew entrance door in case of an emergency aircraft evacuation.
When the 514th AE team landed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, they performed an engine-running offload. This is what they would experience during a mission downrange where they would be loading or unloading patients with the four turboprop engines running so the aircraft can immediately take off.
US Air Force photo by Master Sgt Mark C. Olsen