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Contributing to a greater cause: the aeromedical evacuation squadron

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Transporting the nation's sick and wounded warriors from the battlefield to the home front is a more than just a one-person job. It's a multi-layered process involving personnel both on the ground and in the air.

Once those patients are stable enough for transport, it's the job of aeromedical evacuation squadron members, like those from the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here, to fly with them to get them to the medical attention they need.

According to Lt. Col. Rosalind Johnson, 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron director of operations, the squadron is made up of a diverse group of professionals who all play a part in supporting the combat commander by taking care of sick and injured personnel during their journey home.

Flight nurses and medical technicians make up the main aircrew members who fly with the sick and injured, while communications personnel, medical administrators, logistics members, and a variety of other ground personnel make sure that aircrew has the equipment and information they need to safely care for their patients during transport.

Capt. Alyssa Sandquist, 36th AES flight nurse, is relatively new to the squadron and the Air Force Reserve, having joined in 2012.

“I always knew that I wanted to join the military,” said Sandquist, “but I liked the appeal of flight nursing just because of the mission. It’s exciting! The appeal of flight, of flight physiology – it’s an opportunity that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Aeromedical evacuations squadrons mainly use the C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135 Stratotanker to fly patients to medical facilities for treatment, basically converting these airframes into flying ambulances for transporting patients. The 36th AES, which is assigned to the 403rd Wing here, trains using C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the 815th Airlift Squadron and WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, both of which are also assigned to the wing.

Master Sgt. Joe Byrd, a 36th AES aeromedical evacuation technician, said one of the main reasons he decided to become a medical technician was to follow in his family’s footsteps. His mother was a nurse and his father an emergency medical technician on the civilian side, so when Byrd found out about the AET position in the Air Force Reserve, he decided to reenlist after a 19-year break in service.

Another motivation he has for joining is simple and straight forward, he said.

“I like helping others who are in need,” said Byrd. “Even if it’s something as simple as giving a patient that’s in a litter a bottle of water and just letting them know that you’re there for them, that’s the most rewarding part.”

The main difference between the flight nurse and medical technicians is that the techs are not allowed to administer medicine or drugs to patients; that responsibility falls to the nurses. During the medical missions, the flight nurses also will act as the mission director for the medical crew, said Sandquist.

Once aeromedical personnel receive notification they are transporting patients out of the area of operation, they begin the process of briefing the air and ground crews, configuring the plane for receiving and transporting the patients, and gathering the equipment they need for keeping the patients stable during the flight to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. From there they are flown back to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, and then eventually returned to their home base.

The medical equipment they take with them is designed to help them to respond to many issues they may encounter in-flight to help care for their patients, consisting of a cardiac monitor, suction unit, a vital signs monitor, IV pump, frequency converter (to convert the voltage used on the aircraft to that used for their medical equipment), patient therapeutic liquid oxygen system, and any other equipment that might come with the individual patients.

The ground grew is responsible for supplying the aircrew with additional support, such as providing and maintaining computer and communications equipment, said Staff Sgt. Micky Jolly, 36th AES radio-frequency communications and computer services noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

“We handle the communications in the field, providing (satellite) phones, and when we’re in a new location we help establish communications support and internet connection for the squadron,” said Jolly. “Once that’s done we’re also provided additional duties to help out the medical crew wherever we can, whether it’s carrying litters on and off the plane or helping set up the aircraft to receive patients.”

Since the squadron moved to Keesler this year from Pope Field, North Carolina, it has been in the process of adding new members to its ranks to fill the 40 officer and 83 enlisted positions it is currently authorized. Johnson encouraged wing members interested in joining the AES to check for available openings using the Reserve Management Vacancy System (RMVS) available on the Air Force Portal.

Sandquist summed up her desire for becoming a part of the AES mission, and the overall mission Air Force mission itself.

“There’s just something about contributing to a greater cause, toward the bigger picture, and becoming part of a military family,” said Sandquist. “There’s just nothing else like it.”