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Aeromedical mission has healing touch

by Staff Sgt. Carlos Diaz
386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/29/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN)  -- On any given day, Airmen with the 386th Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility at a forward-deployed location provide support and medical care for patient movement and serve as an integral link in the global aeromedical evacuation system.

“A (staging facility) is a modular and expeditionary concept that supports contingency operational plans at the time of execution,” said Lt. Col. Robert Edwards, 386th CASF commander.

The small tent facility usually takes care of patients overnight or until they can be moved to a larger medical facility, said Staff Sgt. Jennifer Milunas, an emergency medical technician with the facility.

To accomplish its mission, the facility is staffed with more than 35 medics, administrators and logistics Airmen capable of sustaining 24-hour operations. The staging facility needs this full staff because their workload has recently increased.

“Our (patient numbers have) increased more than 25 percent from previous (air and space expeditionary force) rotations,” Colonel Edwards said. “We’re currently averaging more than 60 patients per week moving through the CASF. Operations wise, we support intratheater C-130 (Hercules) missions that bring patients in and C-17 (Globemaster III) intertheater missions transferring patients out every week.”

Conducting these types of operations produces a level of stress that staging facility Airmen are well-equipped to handle.

“It can get hectic quick,” said Capt. William Cabaniss, a staff physician assistant. “We usually have a ‘feast or famine’ workload throughout the week. It can be empty one minute, and within six to 12 hours multiple missions can pop up and we’re scrambling to accommodate a large number of patients very quickly.”

Capt. Carlos Edwards, a dayshift nurse, said a proper mindset helps him deal with the stress and accomplish his mission.

“I take it all in stride,” he said. “Attitude is everything. I just make sure I always remember why I’m here, and that’s to take care of the wounded troops.

“We’ve got a nice system at the CASF (staging facility) to make missions run smoothly, so as long as you play within the system, the stress level seems minimal,” the captain said.

That system is put to the test when staging facility Airmen have to conduct an outbound mission.

Capt. Stephanie Myrda, a nightshift nurse, said performing an outbound mission can sometimes resemble a hotel atmosphere.

“It’s full of people, and if you’re performing an inbound and outbound mission at the same time, you’re quickly checking them in and out,” she said.

The “checking in and out” of patients involves several steps.

“Two hours before an outbound mission, we pick up food, drinks and snacks from the dining facility,” Sergeant Milunas said. “We check their vitals, prepare patient documents and records, provide them with enough medications to last at least three to five days, provide any additional comfort they may need, configure transportation requirements and load their baggage into the vehicle.”

The staging facility’s Airmen said whenever they perform these missions it gives them a great sense of pride and satisfaction.

“We like to treat the patients and make them feel at home and welcomed to be at our facility,” Sergeant Milunas said.

“(The patients’) dedication is phenomenal,” Captain Cabaniss said. “These men and women are mostly battle-hardened (Soldiers and Marines who) even amidst their sometimes critical injuries still ask, ‘When can I get back to my unit?’”

One of the most satisfying parts of being part of the team for Captain Edwards is the camaraderie.

“When a job needs to get done, (we get it done)” he said. “No matter how daunting the task may seem, it gets done.”

Even with all of the teamwork, pride and job satisfaction, challenges always present themselves.

“We are ensuring that the new facility will be ready to open,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Withers, 386th CASF superintendent. “It’s not going to happen on our watch, but it’ll be ready for the next crew.”

Chief Withers also said the facility did not have a full after-hours emergency medical services system available when the Airmen on the current rotation first arrived.

“Although this isn’t part of the CASF mission, we integrated it into our nighttime mission,” he said.

Another concern for the chief is patient movement.

“With the constant increase in patient loads, it strained the transportation support,” Chief Withers said. “So we had to work out several issues with our Navy and Army counterparts.”

Challenges aside, the Airmen said they are unique from any other medical staging facility in the surrounding area of responsibility.

The facility supports, conducts and performs additional medical services such as smoking cessation and a sexual assault prevention program, Captain Cabaniss said.

“I’m very impressed with how well everyone jumped into their new and (dramatically) different roles here in the deployed environment to accomplish the mission,” Colonel Edwards said. “They’re an incredible team.”

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