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Air evacuations helped to advance medical care

446th Airlift Wing Commander

Published: 03:15PM March 16th, 2017

Aeromedical evacuation is steeped in military history, and many of the first advances in this field were propelled by women.

Before World War II, the aeromedical evacuation concept of evacuating patients from war zones wasn’t part of the wartime picture. The global war, however, forced the U.S. Army Air Forces to revolutionize military medical care through the development of air evacuation (later known as aeromedical evacuation) and flight nurses.

March highlights Women’s History Month, and there are many notable women who blazed the aeromedical evacuation path to make it what it is today. For many professionals in the career field, saving lives and returning America’s warriors to their families is the reason they serve.

One trailblazing nurse tested the first intercontinental air evacuation flight in January 1943. Second Lieutenant Elsie S. Ott successfully oversaw the movement of five seriously ill patients from India to Washington, D.C. This six-day trip would have normally taken three months by ship and ground transportation.

For her actions on this historic flight, Ott received the first Air Medal presented to a woman, and she also received formal flight nurse training.

Eventually, about 500 Army nurses served as members of 31 medical air evacuation transport squadrons operating worldwide. It is a tribute to their skill that of the nearly 1.2 million patients air evacuated throughout the war, only 46 died while being transported.

Seventeen flight nurses lost their lives during the war.

The 446th Airlift Wing has the sole aeromedical evacuation support on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and our Citizen Airmen are trained and ready to support when called upon. The 125-person squadron in the Rainier Wing includes flight nurses, medical technicians, medical service corps officers, administration technicians, logisticians, aerospace ground equipment and radio operators. The 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron’s wartime mission is to deploy aeromedical evacuation crews, trained and equipped to provide in-flight medical care aboard transport aircraft configured to airlift patients.

It also deploys people to provide operational and mission management support at aerial ports or hubs supporting aeromedical evacuation operations.

During peacetime, the aeromedical specialist provides movement of ill or injured Department of Defense people and their family members, a direct by-product of the necessary training required to maintain equipment readiness and medical crew proficiency.