Airmen Operate ‘Flying Ambulances’ for Evacuation Missions

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar, Jan. 18, 2018 — The 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron deployed here is one of only two aeromedical evacuation squadrons in the U.S. Central Command area of operations available to remove wounded warriors from the battlefield and ensure they get the medical care they need.

Air Force Lt. Col. Julia Moretti, commander of the 379th EAES, said the unit’s job is to transport wounded warriors from a lower to a higher echelon of care.

“We take them from the battlefield all the way home,” Moretti said.

If military personnel are wounded or become ill on the battlefield, they initially receive first aid care. If lifesaving surgery is needed, the patients are flown to the nearest hospital abroad. That is where the 379th EAES comes in. The unit brings the injured service members here. If they require more intensive care, they will then be transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. And as a last resort, they will then go back to the United States if they can’t be fully treated overseas.

“The goal is to keep them at the lowest level of care, rehab them and then get them back into the fight quickly as possible,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Ausfeld, the 379th EAES first sergeant.

Critical Care Air Transport Teams

In addition to its aeromedical evacuation teams, the squadron also has critical care air transport teams — specialized medical teams composed of a doctor, an intensive care nurse and a respiratory therapist.

If patients can be treated and return to work while deployed, they will stay in the theater. But if they have a more severe condition and could not physically manage doing office work as they recover, they will return stateside.

As the war has progressed, the severity, type and numbers of injuries have decreased significantly. In the early 2000s, the teams would care for 20 to 30 patients who would require litter transport. “Now, that is the exception, and we’re glad to see we aren’t having that many now,” Moretti said.

Aeromedical evacuation teams are made up of two nurses and three medical technicians, all considered flight crew. On top of the medical expertise they must know and practice, they also need to know all about the aircraft they are flying on. They have to know how to put together seats, install stanchions to hold patient litters and how the electricity works for their machines aboard the aircraft, among many other details.

AE teams are also required to have the knowledge to perform their duties on a wide variety of Air Force aircraft, such as the KC-135 Stratotanker, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy and C-21.

Total Force Partnership

The AE teams here exemplify total force integration; active duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard members combine to create the medical teams. In fact, only a small percentage of the teams are made up of active duty service members.

“The Guard and Reserve components are a key part in the aeromedical evacuation world,” Moretti said. “Around 88 percent of AE is Guard and Reserve augmenting active duty. It’s a team effort with all the components to transport and care for our wounded warriors.”

Moretti and Ausfeld said the job is rewarding.

“It’s a great feeling helping our wounded warriors,” Moretti said. “Taking care of our own that were injured or became sick while protecting us, it’s a small way to give back. We pamper the patients and give them the best tender loving care we can.”

“I’ve moved wounded warriors around the world, some with severe battle injuries,” Ausfeld said. “They’ll look you in the eyes and thank you for what you’re doing for them. It can catch you off guard, and it can be hard to respond to. Because these warriors — these sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters — have sacrificed their body and soul. We’re just making sure they get home.”