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Joint training mission provides cost-effective, life-saving training

  • Published
  • By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and Air Force's 81st Medical Group participated in the joint medical training exercise Operation Magnolia Medical Enroute Care Wednesday at Keesler Air Force Base and the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center.

The Keesler units partnered with the Mississippi Air National Guard's 172nd Airlift Wing and its 183rd Air Evacuation Squadron, based in Jackson, and the 186th Air Refueling Wing, based in Meridian. Training was also scheduled with the Mississippi Army Guard utilizing their HH-60 and other rotary aircraft, which are frequently used to extract medical patients in a combat area; however, the helicopter flight had to be cancelled due to severe weather.

Maj. Kaitlyn Woods, a 53rd WRS aerial reconnaissance weather officer, said the exercise was cost effective because the Hurricane Hunters were able to combine their weather training mission, which benefits the pilots, navigator, ARWO and loadmaster, with the aeromedical training at the same time.

"This Total Force training exercise demonstrates how aircrews and medical personnel work together in the field to save lives," said Col. Frank L. Amodeo, 403rd Wing commander, who added that the aeromedical evacuation system provides a more than 98 percent survival rate. "While aircrew and medical personnel have vastly different jobs; these personnel are able to simultaneously conduct valuable training on the same flight, epitomizing the 'cost-conscious-culture' initiative."

The objective of the exercise was to complete four separate training missions with one flight, providing cost-effective and joint training for medical personnel and aircrew. The event simulated a combat medical extraction and aeromedical evacuation from a combatant commander's area of responsibility to a military medical facility all while the 53rd WRS Hurricane Hunters conducted a simulated storm data gathering mission for the National Hurricane Center.

The 81st MDG Critical Care Air Transport and Tactical Critical Care Evacuation Teams need Aeromedical Evacuation teams and aircraft in order to train. The 183rd AES worked with CCATT and TCCET in the back of Reserve and Guard aircraft on a simulated patient who was in critical condition. The training on various medical scenarios was invaluable in honing skills that may save the lives or limbs of real patients in a real scenario, said Amodeo.

"As AE we have to fly on multiple airframes," said Tech. Sgt. Megan Clifton, 183rd AES medical technician. "In one day you could be flying on three different airframes, so it's good for us to be able to maintain our currency on all aircraft. We were able to set up a C-17 today, like we normally do for our training, and we were able to get on a C-130 ... and move all of our equipment and personnel to a C-130, which is very realistic; and, we were able to get ground training on a KC-135."

AE crews are often required to move patients from one aircraft to another in order to get patients to a medical facility for patient care, she said. Same day training on all three aircraft is very rare, but the collaborative efforts in Southern Mississippi made it possible.

An AE crew consists of a medical director, flight nurse, and three aeromedical evacuation technicians. They routinely move critically ill or injured troops after they've been stabilized or received damage-control surgery. AE personnel frequently work with Critical Care Air Transport and Tactical Critical Care Evacuation Teams. CCATTs consist of a doctor, intensive care nurse and respiratory therapist. This specialized medical team operates a portable intensive care unit. TCCETs consist of an emergency medicine or critical care physician, a nurse anesthetist, and emergency or critical care nurse who provide emergency critical care in most rotary and fixed wing aircraft.

The joint training was very beneficial, said Lt. Col. Stan Martin, 183rd AES flight nurse.

"When we do get deployed, we all work together as one big team, the active duty, the Reserve, and the Guard, so it's very rewarding to be able to do these kinds of missions," he said.

"The beauty of it is, in the event we go to Afghanistan or God forbid another natural disaster here on the Coast again like a Katrina, we'd all work together," said Col. Paul Nelson, chief of 81st Aerospace Medicine, who assisted in organizing the exercise. "We'd work together for our medical side and our line side, everybody coming together to do realistic training so if we are called upon, we could do the mission."

Not only was the training beneficial for several military organizations but was also convenient due to the proximity of all the air assets involved. The Guard and Reserve conduct 88 percent of the AE mission, primarily using C-130s, C-17s and KC-135s, all of which participated in this exercise.

"This exercise not only demonstrated the multi-missioned capabilities of the WC-130J aircraft, but also highlighted the uniqueness of the South Mississippi area by providing every possible element of training for medical enroute care in one state," said Amodeo. "The amount of resources and medical expertise demonstrated here cannot be duplicated in very many parts of the world."