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Team effort brings America's wounded troops home

by Tech. Sgt. Charles Miller
445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

8/2/2005 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- Moving wounded American servicemembers from the frontlines in Southwest Asia to hospitals in the United States is no easy task. The effort requires everything from treating patients in forward-deployed locations to airlifting and caring for them as they move from overseas to stateside locations.

One Air Force Reserve Command unit involved in this effort is the 445th Airlift Wing here. Since Oct. 10, 2001, U.S. military aircraft have moved more than 26,000 patients from Southwest Asia to Europe, and more than 18,000 of them went on C-141 Starlifters -- most belonging to the 445th AW.

Those missions continue today with aircrews flying to and from Southwest Asia and Ramstein Air Base, Germany, four times a week. From Ramstein, patients are brought to nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. If further treatment is required, patients are medevaced to the United States.

While aircrews are in the front flying, other reservists are in back of the aircraft caring for patients, and still others are on the ground shuttling the injured to waiting aircraft or ground transportation.

At Andrews Air Force Base, Md., there is never a typical day for the 20 reservists from the 445th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here. One day might bring 100 wounded on several planes arriving from Ramstein. Te next day they may launch planes with critical-care patients bound for hospitals throughout the United States.

“The most important people for us here are the patients,” said Maj. James Crowe, officer in charge of the reservists working in mission management.

Major Crowe and his team assess what the patients’ needs are, what special care they might need, where they are coming from, where they are going and how they will be moved. Some of the critically wounded and seriously ill have a specialized medical team travel with them. The team includes a doctor, nurse and a respiratory therapist who can normally treat up to three critical patients.

People who do not see what is happening on the flightline usually do not know how well the Air Force is taking care of the wounded, the major said.

“There might be a C-17 Globemaster III coming here from Ramstein or even flying directly to San Antonio carrying just one critically wounded soldier,” Major Crowe said. “No expense is being spared.”

On a recent morning at Andrews, the mission was uploading and transporting patients onto a KC-135 Stratotanker and a C-130 Hercules. The KC-135 was an Andrews-based Air Force Reserve plane and the C-130 was from the West Virginia Air National Guard. One plane headed west, the other south.

The 445th AES reservists also oversee moving the wounded and ill from hospitals in the Washington, D.C., area and sending them -- when they have recovered enough -- to medical facilities closer to their homes. They move patients to other military medical facilities nationwide where their special needs can be met. Soldiers coming from Southwest Asia with severe burns are taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

“This is the best job in the Air Force, and I would do this job forever if they’d let me,” said Staff Sgt. Katina Anderson, an aeromedical evacuation technician who reported to the 445th AES cell at Andrews almost directly from the desert. “I got an e-mail while over there about this assignment. You gotta love it.”

The duty at Andrews is similar to what Sergeant Anderson encountered overseas. Although the majority of aeromedical evacuations are done by C-141, Airmen with the team work on a variety of aircraft such as C-130s, C-17s and KC-135s.

“We’re all multicertified to fly on all the different planes,” said Sergeant Anderson, who served three tours in Southwest Asia. “The patient care and equipment is the same on any aircraft we fly. We load the same things no matter which plane we’re on.”

The reservists and aircraft from the Ohio-based C-141 wing have been busy supporting the war on terrorism. Since October 2001, they have moved more than 68 million pounds of war material and logged more than 45,000 flying hours -- more than twice the anticipated number of flying hours.

Master Sgt. Mary Hannon, another reservist in the 445th AES, returned home after several weeks of flying and told her daughter about an experience she had with some patients and passengers.

“I told her about getting five hugs from people on this particular mission,” the sergeant said. “I was hugged by an Iraqi national and a German citizen and his wife, amongst others. I told her how cool it was for them to thank me for the care we gave them on the flight from Germany.

“My daughter asked me, ‘Don’t you get it, Mom?’ and I asked her what she meant. She said, ‘Mom, you are doing God’s work.’”

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