Air Force adapts training for medics

In a state-of-the-art training environment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, flight medics practice on highly sophisticated mannequins in the back of a cold, dark C-17 cargo plane.

The U.S. Air Force has one, major goal with this hands-on training: Prepare future medical professionals for any emergency situation that could arise as they care for military members in war zones and across the world.

“We teach our medics to treat patients on the front lines of combat and to care for them while being evacuated by air to hospitals in safe areas where they can receive definitive care,” said Col. Alden Hilton, commander of the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.

Medics go on to work for the U.S. Air Force all over the world, from the 445th Air Lift Wing based in Dayton to the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron on Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Students who graduate from this course usually go to flying squadrons across the globe, Miller said. There are currently four active-duty squadrons and 27 guard and reserve squadrons.

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The U.S. Air Force School of Air Evacuation marked its 75th anniversary this month, part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson.

The School’s En Route Care Training Department now educates medical professionals in trauma, aeromedical evacuation and international medicine, according to Elizabeth Miller, deputy chair of the En Route Care Department at USAFSAM.

“We’re not teaching them how to be nurses and technicians, but they’re coming in to an environment that you usually wouldn’t see in a hospital,” she said. “You’re coming into an airplane, so you need to know the configurations of the airplane. You need to know the environment you’re in. A lot of times it’s going to be dark … and you’re going to be cold. They have to learn how to take care of that patient in that type of environment which can really stress some people out.”

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Training includes flight nurse and aeromedical technician training, Critical Care Air Transport Team training, Tactical Critical Care Evacuation Team training, Centers for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills courses, and infectious disease readiness training.

Now, the school looks to the future as current conflicts shape how medics need to prepare for emergencies. About two years ago, the school decided the curriculum had to prepare students for real deployed environments with highly sophisticated medical mannequins, Miller said. The class works with simulation operators that push different scenarios to the mannequins — heart attacks, traumatic brain injuries and other traumas all play out in the training.

“We’ll bring you home … we will provide ICU-level care in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq and Jordan, all over the world, we will bring the best most advanced medical care available, far exceeding the capabilities of many other countries in the world in their hospitals,” Hilton said.

Hilton said the School of Air Evacuation has evolved immensely since its inception in 1942. As advances in acute care and trauma medicine have changed, the school teaches the next generation of medics with different tactics.

Prior to 1942, patient evacuations were conducted by crews with essentially no training. The formal charge from the War Department was to train medics in the “art and science of moving patients by air,” Hilton explained.

Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, said the school pushes “disruptive innovation” with its training practices.

“What now?” she said. “Do we stand on our past accomplishments and say, ‘This is good enough?’ Do we pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Good job?’ No. Today is not the day we say, ‘Good enough.’ Today is the day we say ‘What if?’ and define the future of aeromedical evacuation.”


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Reporter Kara Driscoll is reporting from Berlin, Germany during her Arthur F. Burns Fellowship. The fellows work for two months in a host media organization of their choice, learning about news operations in a foreign setting and, in effect, serving as foreign correspondents. Readers can expect to see stories in the next two months about German topics that have an impact on the Dayton region.

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