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Lackland medics support OIF evacuation mission

by Tech. Sgt. Marc Barnes
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1/20/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- The medical mission in Iraq is complex, made up of a variety of Air Force and Army units that provide care for servicemembers and Defense Department civilians and contractors who need help with various ailments -- ranging from minor scorpion stings to serious combat injuries.

But patients who need long-term treatment at hospitals outside Iraq depend on the contingency aeromedical staging facility of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group here to get them where they need to be.

The facility, a medical passenger terminal of sorts, is the last stop in Iraq for patients traveling to Kuwait or Germany for medical treatment. The majority of its staff is deployed from the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, but also includes Airmen from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and Andrews AFB, Md.

Lt. Col. John Ewing, from the 759th Surgical Operations Squadron at Lackland, took command of the facility recently and will lead the staff for the next four months. He said the facility is an "interface point" between medical facilities in Iraq and the aeromedical-evacuation system.

"(We) provide nursing and medical care to patients while they await their airlift mission," he said, "ensuring they are medically and administratively prepared for their flights."

That mission keeps the staff busy 24 hours a day -- either caring for those on their way out, or preparing for the next group of patients. They move an average of 175 people each week, Colonel Ewing said. They are focused on giving each patient the medical care he or she needs, and, just as important, the attention each deserves.

"It's important that they see we are taking good care of them and we value their contribution and the sacrifices they've made here," the colonel said. "I think our staff does very well at making sure these people are well taken care of."

Their efforts do not go unnoticed; patients waiting for airlift at the facility said the staff does a tremendous job of making sure their needs and wants are met.

"They are outstanding," said Jeff Pall, a DOD contractor who was injured in a recent mortar attack and was waiting for an evacuation flight to Germany on Jan. 16. "Being a civilian who once served in the Army, I have to say the (medical care) has come a long way."

Army Sgt. Roger Hammonds of the Texas Army National Guard who was serving as a convoy gunner here, was injured when a roadside bomb exploded as his convoy drove by.

"They've kept me happy," the sergeant said. "I have no complaints. (The Airmen provide) better medical care than I've ever had back in the States."

While Colonel Ewing said his staff is doing a great job, he also heaped praise on volunteers who regularly take their off-duty time to care for the patients.

"Volunteers are a huge part of what we do here," he said. "In fact, I don't think we could do the mission as expeditiously without them. They're incredibly important in helping us get patients out to the flightline and onto aircraft."

A casual observer at the facility may say the staff and volunteers are doing "God's work" by providing care for the wounded heroes of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Colonel Ewing said the Airmen are just doing what they are trained to do.

"In the greater sense, we're all doing God's work here," the colonel said, "but most medics would be demur and say 'I'm just doing what I was trained to do.' We are in a position to preserve life and function, and help these folks who have been injured return to a normal life, or as close as possible to normal, (depending) on their injuries. We're here simply to provide the best care we can and to help them get home as soon as possible."

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