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Aeromedical evacuation critical to AMC’s mission

446th Airlift Wing Commander

Published: 01:03PM August 31st, 2017

The Air Mobility Command’s Exercise Mobility Guardian recently challenged international, partner-nations including exposing aircrews to critical aeromedical evacuation patient stabilization training.

While the Mobility Guardian large-scale exercise concluded Aug. 12, I wanted to highlight how the aeromedical evacuation mission is a unique and significant part of the nation’s mobility resources.

As our nation continues to support worldwide operations, aeromedical evacuation remains a critical element of AMC’s core airlift missions. In fact, many of the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron members are currently deployed supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

Currently, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command perform the bulk of aeromedical evacuation missions. This was because in the late 1950s, in the face of substantial post-Korean War budget cuts, the Air Force started pushing the aeromedical evacuation mission to the Guard and Reserve.

The ANG has 10 aeromedical evacuation squadrons and AFRC has 17 aeromedical evacuation squadrons. There are four active-duty aeromedical evacuation squadrons: two in the U.S. and one each at the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Pacific Air Forces.

The 446th Airlift Wing was activated at McChord Field in 1973 as an associate wing to the 62nd Airlift Wing, and that’s when the aeromedical evacuation mission came to the Pacific Northwest.

Understanding how the aeromedical evacuation mission works peels back layers of a truly complex system. The first recorded aeromedical evacuation flight in the U.S. took place sometime during the late winter of 1918. Captain William Ocker and Reserve medical officer Maj. Nelson Driver successfully hauled a crash victim out of Gerstner Field, Lake Charles, La., in a modified JN-4.

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.

The end of the Cold War and the associated military downsizing has resulted in a reduced forward medical presence. Consequently, theater commanders are more dependent on the aeromedical evacuation system to link casualties to life-saving medical treatment.

The Air Force designated AMC as the lead command for the air mobility mission including air refueling and airlift. Aeromedical evacuation is an element of the mobility mission and is one of AMC’s core airlift missions. As the executive agent for aeromedical evacuation, AMC oversees an integral system of command and control, training, communications, staging and patient care.

The aeromedical evacuation system is decentralized with AMC responsible for in-flight care between the theaters and the continental United States. Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces Europe are responsible for patient movement within their respective theaters. The aeromedical evacuation system uses aeromedical evacuation capable-organic mobility airframes to transport patients.

The aeromedical evacuation mission doesn’t stop with providing medical care for injured military members. The Department of Defense is also responsible to airlift during national emergencies and aeromedical evacuation relies on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to strategically evacuate casualties from the theaters to medical treatment facilities located in the United States.

Prepositioned kits containing litter stanchions, litters, and other aeromedical evacuation equipment are used to convert civilian passenger aircraft into air ambulances.