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Civilian doctor observes aeromedical evac flights to help train military medics

by Capt. Justin Brockhoff
618th Tanker Airlift Control Center Public Affairs

9/2/2009 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- A leading U.S. trauma surgeon flew on an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during an aeromedical evacuation mission in Iraq Aug. 19 and 20 to help shape future training for military medical teams worldwide, according to Air Mobility Command officials.

Dr. Thomas Scalea, the physician-in-chief at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore flew on the mission as a lead contributor to the Air Force's Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills, or C-STARS.

C-STARS is an Air Force medical service training program that links military medical personnel with select civilian trauma care centers across the country to prepare them for the types of cases they'll see while caring for our nation's warfighters.

"The goal of this trip was for Doctor Scalea to observe the often difficult conditions Air Force teams are faced with while aeromedically evacuating our troops from the theater," said Col. (Dr.) Lawrence Riddles, the U.S. Transportation Command Surgeon, who served as Doctor Scalea's escort. "He's already an advocate for our programs and is deeply involved in our military healthcare training. Our operations tempo is the highest I've seen in my career, and with that, our training has to be the best. Giving our C-STARS partners the chance to see these missions will make our training programs more effective."

Results of the training speak for themselves. Since April 1, 2003, Air Force aeromedical evacuation personnel have flown more than 136,000 patient movements worldwide, including more than 8,700 so far in 2009. During operations in Vietnam it took an average of 45 days to return an injured troop to U.S. soil. Today it takes an average of three.

Additionally, wounded troops have a 95 percent chance of survival when they make it to into the hands of the military's aeromedical evacuation experts, who are deployed all over the world. This rate is a success story which can be attributed to the joint en route care system and to C-STARS, and similar training programs, according to AMC officials.

"This trip was very eye opening and I was honored to be included," said Doctor Scalea upon his return to the U.S. at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. "In trauma centers, we are often working in good conditions with the lighting we need and enough space to move around. In the back of an airplane the AE crews work with flashlights strapped to their bodies and have to maneuver in and out of cramped spaces to care for multiple trauma patients at a time, but that does not impact the results. Each patient was cared for with the highest standards, and the care was top notch."

And that care isn't only reserved for U.S. troops. In late July, Air Force aeromedical evacuation teams evacuated a British soldier out of Afghanistan to lifesaving care after being shot in the upper abdomen and the chest. The move took two airplanes to get the right medical equipment and personnel in place, and a third airplane to fly the patient to further care.

"Because of C-STARS, our medical experts get hands-on experience with gunshot wounds, stab wounds, internal injuries and much more, and they experience those situations with world-renowned experts such as Doctor Scalea as an instructor," Colonel Riddles said. "That prepares our teams for a lot of what they'll see in the theater of operations, and it enables them to make those often fast-paced, life-saving decisions."

Many of those aeromedical evacuation personnel who have flown aeromedical evacuation missions have more than a couple stories to back up the importance of programs like C-STARS.

"After attending C-STARS, I was deployed to launch and recover aeromedical evacuation missions as part of the Aeromedical Evacuation Operations Team in Southwest Asia," said Maj. Suzie Dietz, the chief of aeromedical evacuation operations at the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center, and flight nurse with more than 15-years experience. "I can definitely say that C-STARS helped prepare us for the types of situations we faced in the area of responsibility, and you can't put a price tag on the lifesaving results you see every day."

Currently it takes an average of 6.6 hours for the most severely injured patients to be flown out of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to AMC figures. The 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center here is responsible for planning the missions and stay in close contact with aircrews and aeromedical evacuation crews all over the world to accomplish the worldwide aeromedical evacuation mission.

All planning is closely coordinated with U.S. Transportation Command through the Global Patient Movement Requirements Center, which provides worldwide oversight and synchronization of patient movement, integrating medical regulating, evacuation service, and centralized command and control.

"Doctor Scalea is in internationally-recognized expert in the field of trauma care and his expertise is an amazing resource for the training of our AE personnel," said Mr. Steve Dugger, deputy chief of the 618th TACC's Aeromedical Evacuation Branch. "Our role is to plan and execute all of AMC's aeromedical evacuation missions worldwide, and we have a number of people on our staff who've attended C-STARS. By having this first-hand training experience, and knowing what our teams will face in the field, we're better prepared in our role to coordinate aeromedical evacuation movements around the world."

C-STARS was created to help prepare Air Force medics to care for critically injured and ill Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen and safely aeromedically evacuate them back home to the follow-on care they need. The goal is to produce "ready medics" for today's Air Force by integrating military aeromedical evacuation personnel with civilian counterparts to provide real-life, hands-on trauma care experience and exposure.

The program is well worth the time and effort.

"Seeing what these people do to care for others is amazing, and the fact that they're doing it in the back of an airplane at 35,000 feet paints the picture of what the U.S. is willing to do to save lives," Doctor Scalea said. "I'd be honored to work with these teams any day of the week, and look forward to applying what I've experienced to support the C-STARS program."

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