War Zone's Airborne ER

February 24th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: War Zone's Airborne ER

Philadelphia Inquirer
February 24, 2007
After a Chinook crash, a Del. Guard medical team flew to the rescue.
By Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer
In southeastern Afghanistan, Army Chief Warrant Officer John A. Quinlan was piloting a C-47 Chinook helicopter Sunday, carrying members of an elite aviation regiment nicknamed the "night stalkers," when the two-rotor craft lost power.
Quinlan, 36, of Bradley Beach, N.J., quickly got off a radio message as the helicopter dropped, then waited for the crash that killed him and seven others. Fourteen other service members survived - many with serious injuries - and needed immediate medical attention.
They got it from a kind of airborne MASH unit manned by members of the aeromedical evacuation control team from the Delaware Air National Guard. Within hours of the crash, they whisked away the injured aboard a C-17 Globemaster III bound for Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
"It's like being in an emergency room, just as hectic, doing lots of things to care for the patients who had suffered a variety of significant trauma," said flight nurse and Capt. Ben Meadows, 50, of Gap, Pa., describing the atmosphere on the plane.
On the 71/2-flight to Germany, 11 patients received life-saving care from a five-member team from the Delaware Air National Guard and a three-member critical-care air-transport team. Two of the 14 crash survivors were airlifted to Germany later, and one did not require evacuation.
Yesterday, Meadows, in an e-mail, remembered how the harrowing journey "started with a call." He and other personnel - on alert more than 1,500 miles away in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf - did not immediately know "the extent of the crash and number of patients." So "we configured the C-17 for [the] maximum capacity of 36 litter patients," he said.
The injured were rescued by service members from the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and flown to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they were taken from ambulances and loaded onto the C-17. The plane was being prepared right up to the time the patients were brought aboard.
"We loaded them as we had planned, some minor juggling due to some of the tubes, lines and injuries," he said yesterday. "... It seemed to be constant motion until the last and most critical of patients were loaded. This is what we train year-round for."
Meadows said, "It is still not easy seeing so many young guys in such tough shape. They look up to us for comfort and reassurance that they are going to be OK. Most are more concerned with their buddies than they are with themselves."
With all the patients on board, Meadows and other members of the medical crew made final rounds and secured themselves for the takeoff. Then, he said, it was back to work, "checking on lines, tubes and overall patient conditions. This mission was an ER/ICU in the air."
It seemed crazed and chaotic at times, but the patients were getting the care they needed.
"This is what we are all about," said Tech. Sgt. Doug Stephens, a medical technician from Brogue, York County. "We care for these people. Some of the injured were wearing wedding rings.
"They all come from families. The medical condition of a couple of the patients even improved in the air, and we were happy to see that," Stephens said in a news release.
Meadows and Stephens are among 35 airmen of the Delaware Air National Guard's 142d Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron who were deployed this winter for 120 days to Southwest Asia to assist in the medical evacuation of wounded coalition troops from combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the largest deployment from this unit to a combat zone since Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The quick work of the Guard members has repeatedly saved lives that might have otherwise been lost. Most of the service members in the helicopter crash on Sunday morning were assigned to the Second Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. They specialize in low-level night flying in combat and rescue missions, often in support of Army special forces soldiers.
The copter crash in the Shahjoi district of Zabul province was the deadliest single incident this year for the U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Several soldiers survived through speedy medical care.
Capt. Karen Mackenzie, a trauma surgeon on the evacuation plane, said, "It was a pretty hectic flight. We had seven critical patients... head injuries, chest wounds and spinal fractures." Four others were listed as "priority" patients.
It was "absolutely imperative that we get these patients to a medical facility," Mackenzie, of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, said in a news release.
The 11 patients arrived at Ramstein at 2 a.m. Monday. The cargo door opened, and they were placed on two buses for the brief trip to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Less than a day after the crash, they were receiving hospital care.
Meadows said he had been working more than 12 hours straight when he arrived in Germany. But he said he was just a member of a team.
"For the next hour or so [after the patients were handed off], we de-configure the aircraft, clean it up, and head off for 12 hours of rest before we head back out for our return trip" to Qatar, he said. "... We all played a significant role in the success of the mission."
February 25th, 2007  
I got the chance to sit in on a brief by a member of an Aeromedical Evac Squadron about 2 1/2 years ago -- it was basically to give us EMEDS/CSH ground-pounders an idea of what happens after a casualty is evacuated from the EMEDS/CSH.

Hmmm, I wonder if there are any time full-time AGR medical service corps slots in one of these squadrons...

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