By Senior Airman Regina Edwards
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It was late in the evening at the Alexandria, Louisiana, landing zone. The starless sky was a beautiful midnight blue, and the occasional crisp winds were a refreshing complement to the cool temperature.
Airmen united from several Air Force bases to precisely execute the GREEN FLAG LITTLE ROCK 15-04 exercise. This part of the mission was to simulate the procedures for an aeromedical evacuation.
Most Airmen participating in the exercise were working 12-hour shifts, but that wasn’t obvious– they still had enough energy to tell jokes and make what would be a long night, a great experience.
Everyone contributed to the mission.
Parts of the team handled the logistics, making sure all medical equipment arrived to its desired location in a timely manner. Flight nurses, medical technicians and communications Airmen participating as the aeromedical evacuation team went over plans, re-checked the checklist, and got into place as the time to begin drew nearer. The rest of the group, the aircrew, were responsible for flight operations.
All roles were accounted for, and now all that was needed were the patients.
The arrival of a white 15-passenger van alerted everyone that it was showtime.
As the back doors opened, three training dummies simulated injuries ranging from head trauma, chest wounds, shrapnel to severe burns. There was also an Airman playing the role of a mental health patient.
One by one, patients were carefully carried from the van to the C-17. Using their self-aid buddy-care training, teams of two lifted, carried and placed the patients, strapped to litters, onto the stanchions. Just like any other type of cargo loading procedure, an assembly line of Airmen directed the transport by using hand signals which were initiated by Lt. Col. Debbie Deja, the medical crew director.
The roar of the C-17 added to the difficulty of hearing, so clear communication was vital. All eyes stayed fixed on Deja. No one moved unless there was a thumbs up and no one stopped unless she formed an x with her arms.
Just as the third patient was safely placed on the stanchion, another 15 passenger van, loaded with three more patients pulled up and the process repeated.
After the last patient was secure, the logistics crew signed off, and the AE team prepared for part two of the exercise. And as the loading dock closed, the team simulated hooking oxygen to the patients.
Once all 25 passengers on the plane were seated and secure, (eight AE team members, eight aircrew members, six training dummies, an acting mental health Airman and two Public Affairs members), the C-17 took off and the organized chaos subsided.
An announcement from the pilot allowed the AE team to begin to move again around the plane now that they were inflight.
The aircrew and AE team ironed out procedures and discussed operational risk management in a group huddle in the center of the plane, ensuring everyone was on the same page.
The aircrew performed their flying duties and the AE team began treatment for the patients.
Step by step, the team read scenarios and operated as needed to treat the injuries of the patients. They managed to accurately execute their skills through the turbulence and loud clatter of the plane. Treatment ranged from CPR to restraining a mental health patient who tried to retrieve owed money from another patient.
As the simulated patients were stabilized, Deja, who is new to being a flight nurse, applauded her team for a job well done and handed out Snickers to everyone on board.
“The number one priority is training and learning something new,” said Deja. “It’s important to practice because we need to be prepared to go to war at any time, and we don’t get to do this a whole lot. I thought we did really well. I’m very happy with our performance.”
There were Airmen participating from numerous Air Force bases, and each person brought a different perspective to the team.
“It’s good working with people from other bases because you can see how other people are doing things,” she said. “There’s multiple ways to get the same results and you get to meet new people.”
All medical bags were closed. The checklists were put down and the team was able to relax. Some caught up on some sleep, others pulled out snacks, and there were those who just sat with their head laid back, eyes closed, drowning out the noise of the C-17. As they headed back to Alexandria, the AE team was satisfied and confident–feeling like their mission was accomplished.