Air Evac brings 'em back!

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Juliana Todd
  • 908th Airlift Wing

Being inside what is tantamount to an airborne ambulance can be overwhelming. From continuous radio headset communication to hand signals to the jarring effects of turbulence on an aircraft full of the injured and ill, it all might seem rather chaotic to the inexperienced. But within the chaos, there's peace to be found.

Aeromedical personnel bring order to the chaos by knowing how to respond to emergencies. These specially trained members can locate their supplies with precision, provide critical care, reassurance and comfort to patients, and ensure their safety.

This is the mission of the 908th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. Certified medical technicians and flight nurses who operate in specialized aircraft equipped with medical configurations and deliver in-flight care to critically ill or injured service members while transporting them to medical treatment facilities worldwide.

“Our job is to bring our service members home,” said Tech. Sgt. Austin Coar, 908th AES noncommissioned officer in charge of ground training. “Our responsibility is to bring people in bad situations, potentially experiencing the worst day of their life, and reunite them with their loved ones. We take great pride in ensuring the safe return of our service members.”

In preparation for missions like these, AES members undergo extensive training. They routinely engage in 3 to 5-day-long training missions at various locations across the country to stay prepared to answer the nation's call.

During a recent training mission spanning from December 8 to December 10, 2023, approximately 20 members from the 908th AES participated in a tandem training flight with members of the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, from Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

The synchronized training effectively leveraged government resources and enabled the two AE squadrons to train side by side on a C-17 Globemaster III. This approach allowed them to address their unit’s individual training requirements, establish a partnership between the two units and contribute to mutual mission readiness.

"One of the really positive aspects of AE is its high level of interoperability,” said Senior Airman Matthew Stivers, a 908th AES flight medical technician. “We can collaborate with different squadrons to provide assistance and fill in gaps when they have shortages, and reciprocally others come to our aid. There's a strong sense of cooperation within the AE community."

The three-day training mission consisted of briefings, checklists, scenarios, evaluations, and inspections.

Each day began with an initial crew brief covering administrative duties, potential threats and errors that could impact a successful mission, aircraft emergencies and egress plans, and receiving patient information reports, records, and medications. Following this, they delved into the day's scenario, assigning specific equipment, supplies, configuration duties, and roles.

During the flight, certain members assumed special roles, such as a flight nurse taking on the role of the medical crew director or an aeromedical evacuation technician serving as the charge medical technician for the scenario. Additionally, members took turns swapping positions where some members played the role of the patients and others served as the medical technicians.

Each day presented a unique scenario accompanied by a different set of challenges. At times, the team was familiar with the issues at hand, while in other instances they were not. They navigated through varying environments, ranging from low to moderately regulated settings to simulated high-threat environments where they faced gunfire and bombings. Unexpected situations, such as a patient experiencing motion sickness, oxygen leaks, or a surprise chemical attack, occasionally arose without prior notice. Despite these challenges, the crew maintained composure, executing their roles effectively and efficiently.

“As a flight instructor this weekend, I worked with Airmen who were not current or deficient in their tasks and got them spun up on that," said Coar. “The training that I provided the two students that I had this weekend was perfect. I think it met their needs, their training requirements and will be able to stay mission ready.”

After their initial scenarios were completed the crew either studied independently or separated for individualized instruction, delving deeper into topics such as a specific aircraft's configuration or egress training. The members were also evaluated in areas such aircraft litter configuration, pain management, emergency landing procedures, and engines running on-load or off-load operations.

Once the plane landed, scenarios for the day concluded and the crew conducted their post-mission brief. They discussed the effectiveness of the training, identified any discrepancies, and completed necessary paperwork.

“After our training this weekend, I feel well-prepared,” Stivers affirmed. “Our instructors really care about our growth and development, wanting us to succeed and be able to do the mission. I appreciated the challenges they threw at us, allowing us to fail and learn from our mistakes."

It is crucial for these airmen to continuously hone their skills as the medical field is forever changing. Airmen in the AES must maintain flexibility, resilience, and a positive mindset to navigate the challenges they encounter.

“At The 908 AES, our mission and goal is to be the premier medical component in the Air Force,” said Coar. “We are fortunate to have phenomenal members who stay mission-ready and at any moment are ready to go out and do whatever the Air Force needs of us.”

VIDEO | 01:30 | 908th AES trains for Medical Evacuations