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Exercise Tests Patient Care Savvy

By Staff Sgt. Amaani Lyle, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md., Dec. 8, 2006 – A year of planning culminated in the orchestration of more than five aircraft, 13 organizations and numerous flight surgeons, nurses, technicians, administrators and air and ground crew who conducted collaborative patient care and transport during Exercise Capital Shield here Dec. 4-7.

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Air Force Senior Airman Duston Ashton, 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron medical technician, and Air Force Maj. Marie Sasse, 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron flight nurse, tend to a simulated burn victim during a mass casualty response as part of Exercise Capital Shield, Dec. 7. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Matthews, USAF

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Under direction of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region at Fort McNair, and the Air Force District of Washington surgeon general at Bolling Air Force Base -- both in the District of Columbia -- Guard and Reserve forces from the Air Force, Army and Navy fused resources in several states to demonstrate mass casualty response following a state-of-emergency declaration.

"We threw every kind of event at the exercise participants at a very accelerated pace," said Lt. Col. Christopher Morgan, AFDW medical operations and plans chief. "There was a simulated fire at an apartment complex, and we layered additional injects, such as an interstate fuel truck explosion and a media helicopter crash, to create hundreds of simulated on-scene casualties."

As the disasters intensified and surrounding medical facilities reported saturation, professionals met the challenge of caring for patient overflow here as well as patient transport to North Carolina for further care, said Lt. Col. Jimmie Drummond, 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron flight surgeon and the exercise’s contingency aeromedical staging facility commander.

Receiving, treating and sending patients within a matter of hours is a complex task that calls for meticulous coordination, the colonel said.

"Continuity and fluid patient hand-off is key to a successful mission, and I think the people here pulled it off seamlessly," Drummond said. Patients arrived from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and exercise participants ensured their suitability to face potential flight stressors such as turbulence and cabin pressure as they fly to their next destination, he explained.

West Virginia Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters, followed by 121st Aviation Battalion and 1st Helicopter Squadron UH-1 Huey helicopters arrived here to deliver eight critically burned patients to the CASF, a medical care area complete with a power generator and communication capability, created through the efforts of 459th ASTS, the AFDW’s 79th Medical Wing and the 459th Maintenance Group.

In the CASF, flight nurses, medical technicians and a District of Columbia Air National Guard 113th Wing chaplain, 1st Lt. Tiji Murphy, comforted patients as they waited to board an Air National Guard C-130 from New Castle, Del.

Once on the flight line, members of the 459th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron joined the Delaware Air National Guard's 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the 166th Airlift Wing to prepare the C-130's ramp and cabin for patients.

Within minutes, exercise participants loaded all eight stretchers onto the aircraft, bound for North Carolina.

"I personally didn't feel like I was working with other branches or agencies, because we are one," said Master Sgt. Mike Pierson, a Delaware National Guard medical technician. "Everyone was on the same page from the beginning."

Morgan said the planning and effort goes a long way beyond the exercise.

"We try to make these exercises as realistic as possible to benefit not only the medical care providers, but their patients too," Morgan said. "This seamless transition in patient care is so important because it could very well be my family or your family on that plane."

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Amaani Lyle is assigned to the 459th Air Refueling Wing public affairs office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMedical technicians from the 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron transport a patient to medical tents from a 316th Airlift Wing helicopter during Exercise Capital Shield. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Matthews, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA simulated burn patient awaits care in a contingency aeromedical staging facility during Exercise Capital Shield, Dec. 7, as Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kale Govan, 79th Medical Group superintendent, chats with patients to ensure their real-world comfort. Photo by Staff Sgt. Amaani Lyle, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Capt. Sheila Arrington, 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron flight nurse, checks the medical chart for a simulated burn victim during Exercise Capital Shield, Dec. 7. The patient, Tech. Sgt. Cohen Young, is an embedded Air Force News Agency photojournalist. Photo by Airman 1st Class Rusti Caraker, USAF  
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