29 September 2006

Balad: First Step of a Long Journey Home

Balad Air Base - home of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group - is the first step of a long journey home for many soldiers injured in Iraq.

About half of all WIAs (soldiers Wounded in Action) are able to return to duty within a few days. Others require treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before being sent on to medical facilities in the U.S. That decision is made by the staff of the Air Force Theater Hospital, part of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group.

Wounded Soldier with a gift from back home - a Soldiers' Angels backpack.

After initial medical treatment upon arriving at the base hospital, the first thing the patients get is a change of clothing, a clean bed with fresh linens... and some gifts from home.

"Today we received 14 boxes from Soldiers' Angels each containing 3 backpacks. Each backpack had personal care items, a small handmade quilt, socks, and other clothing items. I don't have the words to describe to you the feeling I get seeing the incredulous look on their faces when they realize these gifts are from their countrymen."

The Air Force Theater Hospital is the equivalent of a Level 1 trauma center and sees more than 650 patients per month. These patients arrive from Combat Support Hospitals and front-line medical units all over Iraq.

After treatment and evaluation, flight clinic coordinators at the hospital ensure that all the necessary paperwork and clinical care have been completed and that patients are ready to be transported. Some patients need to stay in the hospital for several days until their condition is stabilized before they can be transported.

Mario Pastrano and Arnita Fowler of the CASF, and wounded Soldier with DVD player sent from supporters back home via Soldiers' Angels.

When a patient is ready to be evacuated, the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF) take over, preparing patients for aeromedical evacuation out of theater and caring for them until their departure from Balad. The CASF staff also is responsible for safely and quickly moving the patients to the flightline and onto waiting aircraft.

"As we were loading the first 3 soldiers on the aircraft, the one who was conscious looked up at the Airmen carrying him and said, "Thanks guys for taking good care of us.""

During the 5 hour flight to Germany, critically injured patients are cared for by the Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team. Others are transported on litters, and ambulatory patients on "troop seats". Upon arrival at Ramstein AFB, the patients are transferred 5km by ambus to LRMC where they are evaluated and admitted either to the hospital (a Level 3 trauma center) or the MTD outpatient facility.

After a short stay in Germany (3 days to 3 weeks) the patients either return to Iraq or Afghanistan or are flown to a medical facility in the US for further treatment.

Soldiers' Angels is honored for the opportunity to provide a range of comfort items to the medical staff of Balad for their patients on your behalf. If you would like to participate with a donation, please visit the Soldiers' Angels website or email Roger, SA Tactical Medical Support Director.

"The short amount of time it took you to write encouraging words on a card has made an immeasurable impact on a particular soldier/airman/sailor/Marines' life."

Thank you for supporting our Wounded Warriors.

"I want to do one more thing for these young men and women... ", a letter to Soldiers' Angels from a Combat Support Hospital.
Our Medical Warriors in Action, an email from an Air Force CMSgt serving in the 332nd Air Evacuation Wing.

The base at Balad is host to a C-130 squadron that provides intra- and inter-theater airlift, delivering passengers and cargo to bases around the country. The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing also operates a contingent of HH-60 helicopters that provides combat search and rescue capability for the entire Iraqi theater.

On a monthly basis, Balad logistics readiness experts process 750 Cargo Aircraft, 9,500 tons of cargo and 19,000 passengers making it the busiest aerial port operation in the AOR, and second in all of DOD only to Dover Air Force Base. In terms of aircraft movements, Balad is the busiest single runway operation in DOD and second in the world only to London's Heathrow airport.

An ambulance bus being unloaded from a C-5 in Balad. The "ambuses" are used to transport patients from medical facilities to aircraft. The same ambuses are use in Germany to transport patients between Ramstein AB and Landstuhl hospital.

Air Force Library Fact Sheet, Soldiers' Angels Medical Support Team.
Photos courtesy staff of 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group.

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