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Air Force Unit provides worldwide medical response capability

Two military personnel loading equipment onto an aircraft Air Force Senior Airman Vanessa Colindres, 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron medical technician (right), helps load a litter of medical gear onto a C-130 Hercules aircraft to prepare for a combat aeromedical evacuation mission at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar in August 2020. (Photo by Senior Airman Ashley Perdue, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)

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On a typical mission with one crew, two flight nurses and three aeromedical technicians, the Airmen assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron have the ability to transform nearly any cargo aircraft into a flying hospital.

“We can basically configure our aircraft to meet our needs,” said Air Force Maj. Christine Cardoza, 379th EAES flight nurse. “We run the entire medical portion of an airborne mission while usually flying a basic five-man crew and, depending on the aircraft, we could have anywhere from one to almost 100 patients at a time ranging from minor injuries to critically ill patients.”

The 379th EAES crews provide time sensitive in-flight patient care, transporting patients from around the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility in Southwest Asia back to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar before they begin their journey back to the U.S. to receive more specialized care.

“It’s amazing how quickly a non-scheduled mission can spin up and we are sent out the door ready to take on however many patients, any type of health issue from medical health and non-battle injuries to battle injuries,” Cardoza added. “Once in the AE system, the patient’s survival rate, I believe, is more than 98%! Being a part of that is an honor in itself.”

While there are specific medical training requirements to be a flight nurse and aeromedical technician, all aerospace medical personnel are also required to go through the Flight Nurse/Aeromedical Technical course, also known as Aeromedical Evacuation Initial Qualification course. During this course, participants start with the academic portion of their jobs and then transition to hands-on training with aircraft simulators.

“As AE crew members, we universally qualify on the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules and KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adam Willemssen, 379th EAES superintendent and First Sergeant.

Willemssen added that his team can also receive short-notice familiarization training for a C-5 Galaxy or KC-10 Extender aircraft and transform them to meet mission requirements within 45 minutes with missions ranging from military operations, to humanitarian aid, to disaster response.

“AE is critical to the Department of Defense and Air Force mission for several reasons,” explained Willemssen. “We as an AE force enabler stand ready to assure commanders and service members that we’ll take care of them and get them home if they are injured or fall ill.  We are also the only branch that does fast, long-range, mass patient movement - a mission that also comes in handy during natural disasters and national emergencies.”

Willemssen stated that part of AE culture is being mindful of the potential for stress and exhaustion. His squadron members have worked together to develop a strong support system in which the crews on standby will help with loading and offloading of the hundreds of pounds of gear onto an aircraft before and after a mission regardless of time or length of the mission.

The fast-paced responses and long mission durations the members of the 379th EAES experience are a piece of a much larger system to ensure total mission success. Despite the rigors of their mission, AE teams, like Cardoza’s and Willemssen’s, understand how critical their efforts are.

“The most rewarding thing about being the superintendent and first sergeant in an AE Squadron is that I get to help people every day, even on days I’m not flying,” said Willemssen. “When I do get to fly the occasional mission, I get to return our sick and injured to their families back home and that is always a righteous mission.”

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