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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraqi aeromedical evacuation capability continues to develop

by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/23/2008 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- Iraqi medical airmen took a step in the evolution of the air force as an effective fighting force Dec. 20 as they conducted an aeromedical evacuation mission from the Air Force Theater Hospital here to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

Three wounded patients, an Iraqi police officer and two children who were injured by an improvised explosive device, were transported from the hospital's Patient Administration and Disposition, or PAD, area to Baghdad in Iraqi air force Mi-17 Hip helicopters.

After treatment in Baghdad, the Iraqi police officer returned to his hometown and members of the children's family took them home to convalesce, said Col. (Dr.) Tim Hursh, chief flight surgeon for the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group here.

The hospital staff here has treated Iraqi patients since shortly after U.S. armed forces took control of Balad in 2004.

"Once they're within the confines of the medical group, and we're taking care of them, we then have the responsibility to make sure they reach their final destination in the correct area of the country," said Doctor Hursh, who is deployed from Brooks City-Base, Texas. "Sometimes that means we can discharge them at the gate to their local families and loved ones. Other times, it means we have to fly them out."

Until recently, that meant transporting Iraqi patients in U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

"We've been working toward getting the Iraqi air force and the Iraqi medical care system to perform this duty," Doctor Hursh said. "We're trying to bring them forward in accepting this role of patient movement for their own people."

Iraqi air force medical officials are doing just that. Fourteen Iraqi airmen graduated from an aeromedical evacuation basics course at New al-Muthana Air Base, Iraq, Dec. 4, then set a precedent a week later when they conducted their first aeromedical evacuation from the PAD here Dec. 11, said Tech. Sgt. Yolanda Jackson, the PAD NCO in charge.

"With this being the second air transport mission in one and a half weeks, we're hoping this will become a routine," said Sergeant Jackson, a native of Loughton, Okla., who is deployed here from Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

The movement process begins with Sergeant Jackson, who submits an Iraqi Joint Movement Request to the Ministry of Defense Joint Operations Center in Baghdad. Iraqi officials at the MOD JOC decide whether or not the Iraqi air force can support the mission. Once they approve the mission, they coordinate a mission date and time with the PAD staff, Sergeant Jackson said. The process usually requires 48 to 72 hours.

"As soon as we know a patient will be ready to go, we submit the forms for a certain date," she said. "That gives the MOD time to see whether they can support the mission and to plan the mission."

About an hour before the flight, Airmen and volunteers move patients onto litters, give them eye and hearing protection and move them from the intermediate care ward to the emergency room. They also prepare discharge paperwork, fill any prescriptions the patients might need and help them get dressed. When the helicopters land, PAD volunteers carry patients to the loading area and assist with the loading process.

The next goal for Iraqi air force officials will be to increase the scope of the aeromedical evacuation mission, Doctor Hursh said. Presently, Iraqi air force officials use their helicopters and C-130 Hercules aircraft to move patients.

"We hope in the future that they'll be able to move patients closer to where they come from -- Mosul, Samarra, Basra," Doctor Hursh said.

In the meantime, Iraqi airmen have become increasingly proficient in aeromedical evacuation with each mission, a trend that makes Doctor Hursh feel "a lot more confident," he said.

"First, the Dec. 11 mission was scheduled several days ahead of time," he explained. "They showed up on time, and they were prepared, with all the personnel they needed on board. Everything occurred on time. I was very encouraged by that.

"Second, they had one medic on board for two helicopters last time," he said. "This time, they'll have one medic on board each helicopter, which tells me that the medical personnel they have either available or dedicated to the mission is growing a little, and I'm happy for that.

"Third, the confirmation that the mission is a 'go' came back more quickly this time," he added. "When we've requested a mission to pick up patients with Iraqi air force aircraft, it's taken many, many, many days before we would get confirmation. This time, we had confirmation in one or two days, and that was terrific. It seems like they're primed and ready to go, and that's very encouraging."

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