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AE teams ready to go anytime, anywhere
Master Sgt. Theresa Sheheen (left), 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight medical technician, and Capt. Michelle Mulberry, 455th EAEF flight nurse, tend to a litter patient on an aeromedical evacuation mission from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Capt. Mulberry and Sergeant Sheheen are deployed from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 187th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Cheyenne, Wyo. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)
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Air Guard prepares for new medical mission

Posted 1/10/2011   Updated 1/10/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Orrell
National Guard Bureau


1/10/2011 - JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md., (1/5/11) -- The Air National Guard will begin flying a newly assigned Critical Care Air Transport Team mission from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, next week, the air surgeon said in an interview here on Tuesday.

The CCATTs - which consist of a physician specializing in critical care, pulmonology, anesthesiology or surgery, along with a critical care nurse and a respiratory technician - are designed to provide a higher level of care in the aeromedical evacuation system, Air Force Col. Brett Wyrick said.

"The Air Guard went from having absolutely no CCATTs six months ago to providing the trained and ready manpower for this Air Expeditionary Force requirement for the next two years," he said.

They will deploy from Andrews for tours that vary from 60 to 180 days.

"A flexible tour length allows for maximum participation among these highly specialized caregivers, who are in high demand in the civilian world as well as the military," Wyrick said.

They will be based out of Ramstein, which is one of the Air Force's CCATT hubs.

"The Air Guard will place at least one CCATT on each rotation flying out of Ramstein ... and we are looking to combine with the Air Force Reserve to field even more teams in the coming months," Wyrick said.

From Ramstein, they may be called on to fly missions downrange into Iraq, Afghanistan or possibly Africa and bring patients back to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The role of the CCATT is to keep patients stabilized throughout the flight and deliver them in stable condition to a treatment center, he said.

The CCATT evolved, because "there was a need to move patients with a higher level of injury - the more critically injured patients - from the forward areas of the battlefield back to the continental United States," Wyrick said.

He added that this mission is vitally important for the future of Air Guard medicine.

"Because this is one of the primary missions that the Air Force does, and as a total force partner with the Air Force, we need to be involved in the missions they're involved with," Wyrick said. "If it's important enough for the Air Force to do it, then it's important enough for the Air National Guard to do it.

"This is a total force mission, in which you will find Guardsmen working side-by-side with their active duty counterparts, whether it be at the hospital, transportation of patients from the hospital to the aircraft or working on the patients on the aircraft."

The Air National Guard had CCATTs when the aeromedical program began, but over the years the Air Guard migrated away from the mission as it got more involved in domestic response teams, such as the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package and the Homeland Response Force missions.

"Now ... there is a need out there and the active duty (Air Force) CCATT teams are getting stretched thin because of the operations tempo, and therefore we were asked by the surgeon general of the Air Force if we could help out," Wyrick said. "This ANG effort is significant, because it will decrease the burden on the active-duty Air Force to field these high-demand and low-density teams."

In addition to its federal mission, CCATTs will also give state governors a surge capacity for homeland response evacuations that otherwise would not exist.

"They can be available in the event of any natural or manmade disaster with civilian casualties," Wyrick said.

During a disaster response, one of the problems is the ability to move patients from the area of devastation to hospitals outside of the affected area, he said.

CCATTs will allow a more immediate response to a critically injured patient than a traditional aeromedical evacuation team.

"The team along with its special medical equipment can turn almost any airframe (whether active duty, Guard or in some cases civilian) into a flying intensive care unit within minutes," he said.

CCATTs are experienced in the care of critically ill or injured patients with multi-system trauma, shock, burns, respiratory failure, multiple organ failure, or other life-threatening complications.

CCATT members are traditional Guardsmen, who have volunteered for the mission. They are taking time away from their civilian practices and occupations to fill the requirements, Wyrick said.

To become a member of a CCATT, medical personnel must endure an extensive selection and a screening process. Once they are approved, they go to the Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills (CSTARS) center in Cincinnati for specific CCATT training.

The two-week class is held at the University of Cincinnati hospital, because of its high number of trauma victims.

"They have to pass through C-STARS and complete all the qualifications and be certified ... before they're even allowed to participate in the mission," Wyrick said.

It takes years to develop the required clinical skills and abilities required for the CCATT, and that makes the mission a good fit for Air Guard personnel.

"By the virtue of the fact that Guard physicians and reserve physicians are more experienced with certifications and clinical time under their belt that makes an ideal mix for the CCATT teams." Wyrick said.

He added that the mission is also an excellent recruiting tool for physicians and nurses, because it gives them a meaningful flying mission.

"It has partly to do with what's happened with aerospace medicine over the past 10 years," he said. "As we've drawn down the number of fighters, there have just been fewer and fewer opportunities for flight docs to actually participate in flight.

"The CCATT is a perfect fit, because it's a flying mission and you're actually taking care of patients and doing what you've been trained to do."

Wyrick said the Air Guard needs more skilled medical personnel in its ranks.

"We always are looking for good physicians, nurses and medical personnel. Medical happens to be one of the most difficult areas to recruit in the Air National Guard, because even on the civilian side ... it's low density/high demand occupations that we're looking for."

Maintaining this capability in the Air Guard and the Air Force Reserve also provides a Total Force benefit, because it allows the active duty physicians and nurses to continue serving in uniform instead of separating from the service completely.

Wyrick said he looks forward to seeing what the Air Guard can do with this mission.

"We're thrilled to be a part of this mission ... and part of the team," he said. "Every person in medicine, at the end of the day, they want to know that they made a difference in people lives.

"This gives them that ability to do that, by wearing a uniform and participating in an experience that they wouldn't get to do otherwise on the civilian side."



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