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Indiana Airmen, Soldiers join in patient transport exercise

Airmen and Soldiers from the Indiana National Guard prepare to load a patient into a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a medical transport exercise at the Johnson County Armory in Franklin July 2, 2020. Due to propeller wash, service members did not wear masks for safety reasons as the masks could cause debris interfering with helicopter propellers.

Airmen and Soldiers from the Indiana National Guard prepare to load a patient into a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a medical transport exercise at the Johnson County Armory in Franklin July 2, 2020. Due to propeller wash, service members did not wear masks for safety reasons as the masks could cause debris interfering with helicopter propellers.

FRANKLIN, Ind. – Airmen and Soldiers from the Indiana National Guard trained together on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for a medical transport exercise at the Johnson County Armory July 2.

“This is unique because this is a joint training mission and something we don’t always get to be a part of,” said Maj. Brian Mathieson, Air Force officer in charge. “It’s not only about COVID but also about learning how to work well with one another.”

Most members of the National Guard are traditional Guardsmen and women who serve part-time one weekend per month. However, during COVID-19 pandemic, many members stepped up to volunteer in their communities and alongside their sister services.

“For the traditional National Guard, we don’t always get to work as a joint task force,” said Army National Guard Maj. Timothy Savage, 215th Area Support Medical Company commander. “Working the last 90 days with the Air Force hand-in-hand has been wonderful, not only for me but also for my troops to see the different sides and how each branch operates.”

In addition to working alongside members of their sister branches in the state, medical personnel were able to become accustomed to loading and unloading patients from a live aircraft.

“Our motto is, ‘We train how we fight,’ so we have to know how to properly load, not only for the safety of the patient but for the safety of our medics,” said Savage.

During the exercise, members practiced loading and unloading procedures via voice direction with the aircraft off and using hand signals with the aircraft engines running. This second scenario, known as a “hot load,” helps replicate real-world missions.

Training exercises such as these become increasingly important during a medical pandemic but also create a challenge for safely conducting them. By enforcing social distancing, mask-wearing and proper personal hygiene, the Guard hopes to contain the spread of the virus among members while still being able to conduct training and fulfill the state mission.

“There’s been a lot of frustration because things are changing [because of the virus] and you never know what to expect,” said Mathieson. “But we’re adapting, adjusting and writing the handbook for the future. A good mentor of mine used to say, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ Well, it’s one bite at a time, and it’s the same with COVID.”

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