Hawaii Team Pivotal to Aeromedical Evacuation Mission
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii, July 11, 1996 The 374th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, may be the only unit of its type in the Pacific Theater, but it doesn't act alone.
Three enlisted medical administration specialists and a Medical Service Corps officer help the squadron move some 4,500 patients a year. When Yokota is called to evacuate patients, the four go to work in a tiny office adjacent to the flight line at this bustling air base near Honolulu.
"That means we frequently work up to 22 hours a day," said Capt. Mark Devoe, who directs the aeromedical evacuation element of Hickam's 15th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. Devoe said most of the patients can be put on scheduled missions, but at least 80 a year require unscheduled, urgent evacuation.
When Yokota officials receive an emergency tasking, they first identify a hospital that can treat the patient, explained Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keith Thompson, NCO in charge of the element. Next, they call the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., to locate the closest available aircraft. Finally, they call the Hickam office, which at that point takes over arranging the mission.
"We're the pivotal factor for all Pacific Theater aeromedical evacuation missions," Thompson said.
With assistance from reserve flight nurses and medical technicians, they care for intransit patients while they're on the ground at Hickam, arrange ambulances between the flight line and nearby Tripler Army Medical Center, and launch missions. Every two weeks, they manage the "retro" mission, a C141 delivering patients and borrowed medical equipment back to their home bases in the Western Pacific.
The "retro," Thompson said, can be a happy occasion for those going back to their home units or a sad event for some, like terminally ill patients returning to family. "We experience a lot of highs and lows here, and that makes a successful aeromedical evacuation very satisfying," he said.
Although the large C141s are the primary aircraft used to ferry patients across the ocean, any aircraft will do for urgent medical evacuations, Thompson said. "We try to keep the missions routine, but we'll buy the mission if we have to," he added. Sometimes, Thompson explained, a scheduled aircraft mission can be diverted to accommodate medical requirements, provided the requesting unit pays for it. "Whatever it takes to help people get the medical care they need, we'll do it."