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Staging facility takes over where hospital leaves off

by Senior Airman Chawntain Sloan
Multi-National Corps-Iraq Public Affairs

8/2/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- It is 10:30 p.m., and the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group’s contingency aeromedical staging facility here is a flurry of activity.

The doctors, nurses and technicians are making their rounds while other Airmen are checking in new arrivals, processing movement paperwork, palletizing bags and making sure the ambulance-type buses are equipped with necessary medical supplies.

“It may look like chaos, but it’s controlled chaos,” said Master Sgt. Jeremy Rennahan, noncommissioned officer in charge of staging facility operations.

As a medical holding and staging facility for aeromedical evacuation, the staff takes over where the doctors, nurses, technicians and medics at the Air Force theater hospital here leave off.

While the hospital is primarily responsible for stabilizing patients, the staging facility provides extended care and prepares patients for transportation to a hospital in Germany where they receive long-term treatment.

This evening, the team has less than three hours to get more than 30 troops, Department of Defense employees and contract civilians medically and administratively ready for back-to-back aeromedical evacuation flights.

“My primary job is to nurture them because they are in a lot of pain, and they don’t have the people they need most here -- their families,” said Airman 1st Class Jangmi Vance, a medical technician. “Some of it’s mental, and most of it’s physical, but I am here for whatever they need, even if that’s just listening.”

For Airman Vance and the rest of her co-workers, their job is about more than just having a good bedside manner.

Some of the patients step outside on the patio for an occasional cigarette, and often right behind them trails Airman Vance and one or more of her comrades.

“I don’t even smoke, but I will go out to the patio and sit and talk with them,” said the Airman deployed from the 89th Medical Surgical Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. “I enjoy getting to know them and listening to their stories, and I know they appreciate the company.”

The efforts of Airman Vance and the rest of the staff do not go unnoticed.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Raul Betancourt is all smiles even though an improvised explosive device left him with a broken leg and foot, shattered elbow, and multiple burns and shrapnel wounds.

“The people here are awesome,” said Sergeant Betancourt, who is deployed from Fort Benning, Ga. “I’ve been in 17 years, and I have never seen people take care of Soldiers like this before. They really go above and beyond to make you comfortable and get you what you need.”

The 65 doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff are not alone in their endeavor to provide a level of care beyond ordinary.

Cards, letters and homemade projects from patriots worldwide line the hallways, and a storage closet is filled with care package items like toiletries, clothes and phone cards sent to “an injured Soldier.”

“Most of the stuff that they send is really useful to patients, and some of it’s unique,” Airman Vance said. “I remember one person sent a bunch of laundry bags, and my first thought was, ‘What are we going to use these for?’ But then I realized, the patients usually have their clothes and other personal items, and all we have are these plastic bags that aren’t very sturdy or big, so I give them the laundry bags to put their stuff in.”

Aside from helping the staging facility team foster a relaxed, caring atmosphere, more than 300 military volunteers also do their part to alleviate some of the physical strains like lifting and moving ambulatory patients who are primarily carried in and out by stretcher.

“They help out tremendously,” said Sergeant Rennahan, who is deployed from the 81st Medical Operations Squadron at Keesler AFB, Miss. “If it were not for the volunteers, I believe our staff would have had some injured backs by now. We have been here 90 days and have not had one injury (from lifting patients).”

Having the extra muscle on hand proves to be even more essential once the notification rings down that the planes are ready to be boarded.

There is no time to waste, and the volunteers do not hesitate to spring into action. Within a matter of 30 minutes, all the patients are loaded and the buses are headed to the flightline.

The staff and volunteers each have just enough time to catch their breath before they start boarding patients. Averaging about a minute per patient, the last patient is strapped in and the aircraft is ready for take off almost 45 minutes later.

As the aircraft door closes, the faint sound of clapping and cheering can be heard.

“Thanks for being my hero,” the volunteers and medics shout to the patients.

Their mission is complete until tomorrow -- a different set of patients, but to them, another group of heroes.

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