By Ms. Betty Nylund Barr, Staff Writer
In a previous issue of The Mobility Forum, we examined Full Spectrum Readiness as it applies to airlift operations. In this issue, we will delve into Full Spectrum Readiness as it affects aeromedical evacuation (AE).
Under normal circumstances, people who are sick, injured, or need ongoing medical services can either drive or have someone else drive them to medical facilities. At times, they may need to enlist the services of an ambulance.
In a war zone, however, or in an area that has been ravaged by a hurricane, wildfire, flood, or other natural disaster, those modes of transport may not be available. In those circumstances, AE may be the lifesaving answer.
AE began early in the 20th century—virtually as soon as fixed-wing aircraft were invented. Dr. Bruce Green, 20th Air Force Surgeon General, described how U.S. Army medical officers Capt George H.R. Gosman and Lt A.L. Rhodes designed and built the first “air ambulance” for transporting patients using their own money. Its first—and last—flight occurred in 1910 at Fort Barrancas, Florida; the plane crashed after flying only 500 yards. That flight may have been unsuccessful, but it was just the beginning.
Air Mobility Command (AMC) oversees “an integral system of command and control, training, communications, staging, and patient care” and describes the mission of the Air Force’s AE System as “to provide fixed-wing movement of patients requiring supervision by AE personnel to locations offering appropriate levels of medical care.” An AE crew must be able to take care of not only the systems on a huge, highly sophisticated aircraft but also the needs of critically sick or injured people. That is where Full Spectrum Readiness is needed.
A basic AE crew consists of two flight nurses and three AE technicians. That crew must consist of Airmen who have the full spectrum of training, education, and character to meet those needs—medical, mechanical, and electronic—and who are brave enough, confident enough, and focused enough to dismiss thoughts of their safety and put the needs of their patients first.
The U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Wright Patterson Air Force Base (AFB), Ohio, conducts a Flight Nurse and AE Technician Course that provides realistic, hands-on simulation of possible events that AE crews may encounter. Course planners may even “seed” the training with Airmen, who create fictitious dangerous scenarios, to prepare trainees to handle all types of situations. Students must complete 40 hours of missions on a mock-up of a C-130H aircraft. Other AE courses may take place on a C-17 mock-up. Those “classrooms” simulate conditions on an actual mission, including the sounds of the aircraft engine, explosions, and crash landings. They can also simulate decompression, complete with the necessity of the students to use oxygen masks as they attend their patients.
At any time of the day or night, an AE crew may be mobilized to respond to a medical emergency, whether it involves two or twenty individuals, so they have to be ready. They have to be willing to drop what they are doing and go to the aid of others.
When military personnel become sick or wounded in combat, medics administer first aid and then typically arrange for AE to transport them to the closest hospital abroad—away from the combat zone—where they can receive the care they need. If they cannot receive the care they need abroad, AE medi-flights them to a U.S. hospital.
The following examples are just a few of the lifesaving efforts that AMC AE crews have accomplished:
Regardless of the location or danger, Airmen on an AE team are always ready, willing, and able to risk their lives to help save other people’s lives. Day or night, winter or summer, rain or snow, these critical Airmen answer the call!
 Green, Bruce. “Challenges of Aeromedical Evacuation in the Post-Cold-War Era,” Aerospace Power Journal 15, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 14ff.