AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS)
The mission of the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here is to provide medical care for wounded service members, while flying them to locations where they can receive further treatment.
The unit provides this service to U.S. military members, as well as coalition partners, supporting Operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel during aeromedical evacuations.
In 2015, more than 1,000 patients with a variety of injuries including gunshot wounds, brain trauma and blast injuries were flown out of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility by the squadron. The unit’s Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT), which consists of a doctor, nurse and therapist, provides care for the most critically wounded and has treated 10 service members since Jan. 1.
“We are basically a mobile intensive care unit,” said Master Sgt. Illeana, a 379th EAES respiratory therapist from Maryland. “We have everything we need to give people the most definitive patient care, just like they would receive in an ICU at a hospital.”
This mobile ICU consists of a five-member AE crew, a CCATT and about 1,000 pounds of equipment and supplies, including ventilators, medication, cardiac monitors and bandages. A team of medics configure an aircraft, usually a C-17 Globemaster III or C-130 Hercules, to serve as a specific mission’s ICU.
Once the aircraft is configured to support the AE mission, the AE crew loads the equipment into the aircraft and prepares to receive patients.
“Our basic aeromedical crew is able to provide outpatient and medical-surgical inpatient services to the people we transport,” said Lt. Col. Russel, the 379th EAES commander. “We add specialty care teams to this basic complement to enhance in-flight capabilities. Our critical care air transport teams provide intensive care treatment such as advanced ventilation management, trauma resuscitation, medical stabilization and other therapies typically found in any hospital ICU.”
Illeana said being a part of the CCATT is very rewarding.
“For me, it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever done,” she said. “Bringing our warriors back to their families and loved ones; being a part of that is very special.”
Illeana has been a respiratory therapist for nine years and is currently serving on her third deployment, the first as an AE crew member. On her first AE mission to Afghanistan she helped evacuate three Soldiers wounded by an explosion.
“When we arrived to pick up the Soldiers,” Illeana said, “the Soldiers and their comrades were so happy. They knew they were getting help, they had hope they would see one another again and they never doubted that.”
Caring for service members in what is likely their worst moments is a challenging and humbling experience, said Capt. Heather, a 379th EAES flight nurse from New York, who has flown on about 50 AE missions.
“On my last deployment to Afghanistan, we were called out on an urgent mission after a bombing,” she said. “One Soldier couldn’t see and he knew his supervisor, who was also wounded in the blast, was on the plane.
“We cared for him and kept him informed of everything that was going on, provided him with pain medicine and all he wanted was for someone to hold his hand,” she continued. “He couldn’t see anything and didn’t know what was going on, so I held his hand for about five hours during the flight to Germany.”
Saving lives and returning America’s warriors to their families is the reason many AE professionals serve.
“That’s why we do this,” said Lt. Col. Patrick, a 379th EAES nurse. “It’s hard to put into words. We often look back on our missions and reflect on what we did. What we think about the most is, because of what we did, someone will get to go home and see his or her family.”
Before deploying to Al Udeid Air Base, Patrick participated in an air show at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. During the event, he manned a CCATT display when two service members, both amputees, visited him.
“One of them was carrying his daughter with his prosthetic arm,” Patrick said. “I didn’t know him, but someone else took care of him and he was able to come back and be there for his little girl. How much better does it get?”
Editor’s note: Last names were removed due to security concerns.