From Scott to Scotland: Okies fly ambulance in the sky

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Samantha Mathison
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, several Air Force units across the country responded to aid the citizens of Texas and Louisiana. One of the resources mobilized were teams of Aeromedical Evacuation technicians, who specialize in providing critical emergency care to patients while in transit on aircraft to medical facilities.

Approximately 87 percent of the total AE force structure resides in the Air Reserve Component, with the remaining percentage consisting of four active duty AE squadrons. With such a reliance on the guard and Reserve force, realistic training is an essential aspect of mission readiness.

The 507th Air Refueling Wing here partnered with the 932nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, Aug. 25-28, 2017, to provide in-flight medical training for 16 AE Reserve Citizen Airmen.

The 507th ARW has a fleet of eight KC-135 Stratotankers, which are used primarily for aerial refueling in operations worldwide, but each aircraft can also transform into an emergency room in the sky to provide lifesaving in-flight patient care during a crisis.

A KC-135 Stratotanker crew here transported the AE team to and from Prestwick, Scotland, enabling the Reserve Citizen Airmen to train and develop in-flight medical skills in preparation for life-threatening emergencies and evacuations.

In a deployed environment, AE technicians can be in the air for up to nine hours caring for patients. They are also responsible for loading, setting-up and off-loading medical equipment and converting the cargo area into an emergency room.

Flight nurse, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Erdman, 932nd AES, said the in-flight training helped enhance her understanding of what a real-life emergency evacuation would entail.

“It can be mentally and physically demanding, so I was able to actually experience what goes into a day like that,” she said.

The extended flights on the KC-135 provided a realistic level of training that couldn’t be accomplished on the ground or in a short local flight, according to Erdman.

The AE team practiced carrying patients on litters, operated sensitive lifesaving equipment and simulated emergency scenarios while in-flight on the aircraft.

According to Erdman, the eight hour flights allowed team members the flexibility to rotate between different roles and responsibilities. In one training scenario, Erdman was the flight nurse caring for a crisis patient, but in others she acted as an evaluator or another patient.

“In a real emergency situation, we might not have time to stop and think through our decisions,” she said.” Training gives us the leeway to discuss our thought processes or double check our regulations, so that in the future we have a better chance of saving lives.”

The KC-135 aircrew consisted of four pilots, two boom operators and four aircraft maintainers to fly in support of the aeromedical training mission.

507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, Staff Sgt. Nathalie Hamilton, said she recognized the importance of how her job supports the essential training needs of the AE team.

“You can’t plan for medical traumas, emergencies or evacuations,” Hamilton said. “So practicing makes the aeromedical team more proficient and will allow them to step-up when called. And they will, because we were able to help support their training.”

The 932nd AES active duty partners at Scott AFB, the 975th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, mobilized Aug. 30, 2017, to join the humanitarian relief efforts of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. A second team joined them Aug. 31, 2017, and a third team is on stand-by to respond.

The Air Force Reserve Command has a total of 17 AE squadrons and the Air National Guard has ten AE squadrons. There are four active duty AE squadrons: two in the continental U.S. and one each in U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Pacific Air Forces.

Since June of this year, the 507th ARW has supported eight operations in the Americas, three in Europe and one in the Pacific Islands. Currently, there are also more than 100 Citizen Airmen Okies deployed in undisclosed locations throughout Southwest Asia.