03 February 2006

Airlifting Wounded Warriors

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- An Army air evacuation Blackhawk Helicopter UH-60 is met by Air Force and Army medics at the Air Force Theater Hospital here Jan. 29. The hospital provides Level 1 trauma and specialized medical care throughout the Iraqi theater. Some of their specialties include neurosurgery, orthopedics, oral maxillofacial and vascular medicine. - U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung.

The business of saving lives: airlifting wounded warriors

Their mission was simple -- save lives by safely moving patients to appropriate medical facilities. Nine patients were logged into the aeromedical evacuation system for pick-up -- five ambulatory and four on litters. But the crew knew it could change. ( ... )

By 9 a.m., the crew had logged its equipment into the computer system. Using a barcode scanning system, the medics tracked every piece of equipment going on the plane. Within an hour, they were uploading cardiac monitors, intravenous bags and other equipment and supplies, along with their flak vests and Kevlar helmets, onto the C-130 Hercules from Dyess AFB, Texas. ( ... )

The first stop was Ali Base in Iraq. Throughout the flight, the medics read, joked around and rested for the long day ahead. The mood was jovial as the team got to know each other; three were on their first flight into Iraq, with only two seasoned veterans on this run.

Within 20 minutes of landing, however, the tone changed. The plane became strangely quiet as everyone donned their body armor. ( ... )

Once on the ground, the crew moved quickly. Patients were carefully lifted onto the aircraft, with litters tightly secured in place.

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Medical personnel and aircrew members carry a patient from a Minnesota Air National Guard C-130 to a Pope Air Force Base, N.C., C-130 for transport to Baghdad Jan. 28. The critical care team is the equivalent of a flying intensive care unit. - U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Oldham.

As predicted by Sergeant Burris, the patient numbers were already changing. The medics loaded three litter patients onto the plane. One Soldier had survived an improvised explosive device attack that destroyed his vehicle. Another was recovering from emergency bowel surgery and a third was going in for magnetic resonance imaging for a knee injury. ( ... )

The sun fell just below the horizon as the medical team arrived at Balad Air Base, Iraq. Everyone, including patients, exited the plane while it was refueled. Once again, the medical team loaded injured and sick Soldiers onto the plane. A few more litter patients were carefully loaded; one needed oxygen. Captain Shamburger monitored the patient’s oxygen levels throughout the flight, frequently checking his pulse and blood pressure.

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Capt. (Dr.) Erik von Rosenvinge, a 379th Aeromedical Squadron critical care air transport physician, conducts an initial assessment of his patient before the C-130 cargo aircraft departs for Baghdad Jan. 28. - U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Oldham.

By the time the C-130 flew out of Balad with 55 “souls on board,” the full moon illuminated the glowing monitors on the flight deck. The aircrew donned night vision goggles and flew in total darkness to avoid hostile fire from the ground. The aircraft made one more stop that night before heading back to home base.

By the end of the mission, more than 13 patients and 41 passengers had been safely moved.

But the night wasn’t over. The crew unloaded their last patients, downloaded their supplies, inventoried their flight kits in the warehouse and filed post-flight paperwork. Back at the coalition compound, the medics grabbed a late-night dinner in the dining facility. Their heads finally hit their pillows close to 2 a.m.

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