18 April 2010

Volcano eruption diverting U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan from their usual stop at Landstuhl

It's a long flight for both the patients and the caregivers. But if I've learned anything over the past several years, it's that the United States Air Force delivers.

Wounded troops diverted from German medical center after Volcano shuts down airspace

BY Stephanie Gaskell
Sunday, April 18th 2010, 1:31 PM

The Icelandic volcano eruption is diverting U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan from their usual stop at an air base in Europe.

Instead of flying the troops to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, they'll be airlifted directly to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., or to the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md.

U.S. military officials said medical care for the wounded troops would not be impacted.

"We're just readjusting our processes and our procedures and, most importantly and most obviously, the routes," said Navy Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for U.S. Transportation Command.

The planes are refueling mid-air or at a U.S. base in Italy during the transatlantic flights.
Read the rest here, as well as this article from yesterday's European Edition of Stars & Stripes.

Update, 19 April:

The UK Ministry of Defence is considering flying their troops wounded in Afghanistan to coalition partner countries such as Germany (should the air space here reopen) or even to the U.S. for treatment if British airspace remains closed.

Normally, wounded troops would be flown home and treated at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

But one report suggested wounded troops might be flown as far as America for treatment.

Most of the badly injured could be evacuated alongside wounded US soldiers via an ash-free southern Europe route to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington DC.

"We have made alternative arrangements with coalition partners to bring back wounded troops if necessary," said a spokesman.

Update 2, 19 April, from AF.mil:

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- Air Mobility Command operations in and around Europe have been adjusted as a large cloud of volcanic ash continues to impact flight operations across much of the continent, according to AMC officials.

"Under normal circumstances, the majority of military and civilian patients aeromedically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan move to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for care, then move to the U.S. within a few days," said Mr. Steve Dugger, deputy chief of the 618th TACC's Aeromedical Evacuation Division. "In light of the volcanic ash, our AE missions will fly directly from the CENCTOM AOR to the U.S without the stop in Germany. This effort will require up to two air-to-air refuelings per mission, but it's worth it to get these patients to the care they need."

In addition to adjusting AE flight routing, AMC's AE crews and Critical Care Air Transportability Teams, which normally stage at Ramstein Air Base, have been temporarily sent to forward staging locations in CENTCOM. This posturing ensures AMC has the right medical personnel in-place to care for our wounded warriors while being aeromedically evacuated to further medical care.

AMC officials continue to monitor the situation to determine what other measures may be required to ensure success of the mission and the safety of crews and aircraft. The 618th TACC's Global Weather Operations Directorate also has weather forecasters on-duty 24/7 to provide up-to-date weather information to AMC aircrews operating worldwide.

More, 20 April:

Planes grounded for 6th day after eruption
Volcanic Ash Reroutes Transport of Afghan War Wounded
Volcanic ash forces [UK] army to fly wounded British soldier to US

Troops wounded in Afghanistan are evacuated to Iraq

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. military has diverted the medical evacuations of about 20 servicemembers wounded in Afghanistan to a hospital in Iraq because of the ash plume preventing usual air travel into Germany.

Typically, wounded Americans and others requiring a medical evacuation are flown from the war zone directly to Landstuhl, Germany, and then on to the United States — often to Joint Base Andrews, just outside of Washington.

But the volcanic eruption in Iceland has shut down air travel over much of Europe, requiring military flight diversions to more southerly routes. Now troops may end up at Joint Base Balad in Iraq. The hospital is being used as a temporary hub for injured troops until medical evacuations to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany can resume, said Col. Dennis Beatty, the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group deputy commander.

To accommodate the sudden influx of patients, hospital wings that had been shut down — due to the upcoming Iraq withdrawal — were reopened.

“In six hours,” he said, “we were able to double our capacity.”

But the injured troops won’t be staying long. Most will be put back onto flights headed to the U.S. within about 12 hours, Beatty said.

“It really is designed around the medical reality that survival, and taking the best care of our soldiers possible, needs to have an intermediate stop where they are properly stabilized and given care that may not be able to be efficiently given out here,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen Kwast, commander of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, who spoke to Pentagon reporters via satellite. “That intermediate stop saves lives, and it needs to be done.”

A Pentagon spokesman said those evacuated to Balad will later have to stop for a refueling in Naval Station Rota, Spain, on their way to Washington. A statement from Balad public affairs said the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group anticipates “the average patient load to increase by about 50 patients per day.”

1 comment:

lisa-in-dc said...

Hope everyone got where they needed to go.  Some of the guys at Bethesda this weekend were those on the 26-hour, multiple air re-fueling flights.  Long haul for everyone - including family members waiting for them to arrive.