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Hurlburt Field medics continue to save lives in Haiti

by Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

1/26/2010 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- Medics from the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron here have performed dozens of surgeries, evacuated scores of citizens and delivered tons of vital supplies as part of the ongoing relief effort in Haiti after the devastating earthquake Jan. 12.

The squadron's special operations surgical teams, special operations critical care evacuation teams, and special operations forces medical elements responded to different life-threatening situations since arriving to the island Jan. 13.

"The teams are performing marvelously," said Lt. Col. Jeremy Kokenes, the 1st SOSS operations director.

Although he has not been to Haiti, Colonel Kokenes has been in frequent contact and coordination with personnel on the ground including Lt. Col. Leighton Anderson, the 1st SOSS commander and the Joint Task Force Center's operations officer.

"Up until a few days ago, our medics were the only military surgical capability in the country and the only surgical presence at the embassy," he said.

With most of the cases taking place outside the airfield, medics flew on helicopters wherever they were needed.

"They'll quickly go out to provide immediate care when there are people in dire situations and perform amputations and even deliver babies," Colonel Kokenes said.

While aboard the flights, Airmen saw a larger view of the quake's aftermath.

"They said Port-au-Prince is basically flattened, and there's rubble everywhere," Colonel Kokenes said. "Each day the tent cities are getting more organized, but it's almost total destruction there."

In some cases, medics escorted patients to receive higher medical care in the United States before returning to Haiti to save more lives.

"The CASEVAC teams have basically taken over all of the casualty evacuation, including moving American citizens out of Haiti," Colonel Kokenes said.

When not tending to casualties or flying to and from the airfield, medics assisted in areas outside their areaof expertise, like off-loading C-130 Hercules aircraft and working with international and joint partners to organize search and rescue teams.

"They are doing a lot of things they're not used to doing, but they're doing it incredibly," Colonel Kokenes said.

As the humanitarian mission continues, Colonel Kokenes said he expects the role of the 1st SOSS Airmen to consolidate with conventional medics as more get to the island. At the same time, the teams will prepare for the next event that requires a rapid response.

"The wing has taken the lead and been the most effective command and control mode there," he said. "It's been a good team effort, and it's been a great mission."

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