by Senior Airman Elizabeth Van Patten, 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Dobbins Air Reserve Base
Aeromedical evacuation crews bridge the gap between care in the field and care provided once a patient arrives at a hospital. These "Flying Samaritans" make flights from forward bases in Southwest Asia to the larger bases in Europe or stateside to transport wounded warriors from the battlefield and return those who have received care back to their duty locations.
Although an aeromedical evacuation team usually flies with a C-130 aircrew, they can also fly on C-17 Globemaster IIIs, KC-135 Stratotankers or other aircraft, if there is a need. The aircraft are reconfigured into flying hospitals with cardiac monitors, defibrillators, intubation devices, litters and various supplies to sustain many types of patients.
The Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard provide 85 percent of the total Air Force aeromedical evacuation capability. Sixteen men and women from the 94th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron were recently welcomed home after their 120-day deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Officer flight nurses and enlisted medical technicians deploy and fly together. To the casual observer, the crews work seamlessly as a team.
"The medical crew on an aircraft is made up of five people: two nurses and three aeromedical evacuation technicians," said Maj. Bryan Hutcheson, 94th AES flight nurse instructor. "A lot of the roles and responsibilities are rank-neutral, in terms of need to be accomplished by the first person available. There is a certain sense of teamwork, and we all see similar training."
In addition to the flying teams deployed, there were non-flying members of the squadron who act as go-to people when crews want to fly, such as Senior Airman Stephanie Lee, 94th AES squadron aviation resource technician.
For Lee, this was her first deployment. She worked closely with members of the 700th AS.
"When the flyers want to fly, they come to me, and I make sure they are flight qualified," said Lee. "They have to be up to date on their training to fly."
Lee also operates as a scheduler, where she verifies that the right people are doing the right job on each crew and gives each individual the go or no-go for flight.
Also deployed for the first time was Capt. Brittany Hemmer, 94th AES flight nurse.
"We all train constantly, but until you go and do the real thing, you just don't grasp all of it," said Hemmer. "It reinvigorated me and helped me understand why I came into the Air Force. It makes me respect the people who have gone over on multiple deployments before me. At the end of the day, when you fly the wounded, you forget all the little problems you might be having because you look at the guy in the stretcher. That is the mission."
Lee and Hemmer were deployed to Qatar and Afghanistan, respectively.
The 94th AES had crews deployed along the multiple stages that need to covered when bring wounded warriors out of combat, back to hospitals where sometimes severe injuries must be treated for extensive amounts of time. These legs include contingency locations within the Middle East, larger bases in Germany, and state-side bases such as Andrews Air Force Base. From Andrews patients are flown to specialty hospitals.
"Patients with burns will be flown to burn centers," said Maj. Sherry Sexton, 94th AES clinical flight commander. "We disperse them to the specialty center that will most likely be able to deal with their injury. We have the best job in the military -- we take the patients home."
This was Sexton's first deployment. In addition to the adjustment to deployment and her intense flying schedule, she was also given great responsibly as a chief nurse.
The mission wouldn't be possible without the various airframes and Airmen within the AES. Additionally, there is still a constant need for Airmen to man the necessary career fields, as they are currently stretched thin.
"Many times crews could arrive in Germany after a several hour mission and have to turn around and fly right back down range," said Master Sgt. Jonnell Wallace, flight medical technician. "They fly back down and come back again."
Members of the 94th AES typically work from a C-130, which is known for flying into austere, hostile locations. Aircrews are expected to operate with the same amount professionalism and poise under fire -not only preserving their own lives, but the lives of those they pick up and bring home.
It is estimated that members of the 94th AES helped save over 440 lives during the four months they were deployed.
"We don't really like to focus on the numbers because it's a reminder," said Hutcheson. "It says that everyday someone is trying to kill you, and they are successful every day. The numbers are still high enough that you don't get an opportunity to forget."