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Joint Flight Nurse Course Benefits Military Medicine

Medical professionals from all the uniformed services learn within a joint training environment
the skills and knowledge required of flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation technicians.

By Rudy Purificato / 311th Human Systems Wing Public Affairs

BROOKS CITY BASE, Texas, March 29, 2006 – They represent the changing face of military training, medical professionals such as U.S. Public Health Service officer Charles McGee and Navy Lt. Shawn Passons, who have come here as part of a U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine initiative.

Together with classmates from the Air Force and an Army nurse assigned to the White House, they learn within a joint training environment the skills and knowledge required of flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation technicians.

They are at Brooks City Base because they know this training course is not only considered by many as the best in the nation, but also one-of-a-kind.

"The Navy doesn't have a course like this for flight nurses. Only flight surgeons receive flight medicine training at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla.," said Navy Lt. Chris Cesa, a flight nurse from Cherry Hill, N.J.

The expanding role of Navy medicine since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has prompted participation in the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine course, he said.

"About 280 students per year come through this course, which is 21 duty days. They learn about the stresses of flight and its impact on patients."

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jared Mort

"Prior to 9-11, the Navy was creating its own flight nurse course, but after 9-11 there was no funding for it. That's why we're here," said U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Steve Morin, a 30-year-old flight nurse from Auburn, Maine.

U.S. Public Health Service's expanding role in aeromedical evacuation supporting hurricane and tsunami humanitarian relief operations has led to an increasing number of its flight nurses participating in Air Force medical evacuation training here.

"About 280 students per year come through this course, which is 21 duty days. They learn about the stresses of flight and its impact on patients," said Capt. Jared Mort, U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine flight nurse and aeromedical evacuation course instructor.

Besides altitude physiology, Mort said, course participants also learn about fixed wing aircraft capabilities with respect to aeromedical evacuation.

This includes knowing about various airframes and aircraft systems such as oxygen and electrical power supply.

"They learn to configure litters for C-130s and learn to operate aeromedical evacuation equipment. It's practical hands-on training," Mort said.

So practical is this course, originally designed in the 1940s for U.S. Army Air Corps nurses, that non-Air Force flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation personnel are adapting the training to fulfill specific service-related requirements.

"The Navy has only three active-duty flight nurses," said Passons, who is attending the course to prepare for an assignment on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

"There are two Navy flight nurses assigned there," she said of the British owned territory that the U.S. government leases as a staging area for military forces in the region.

"The closest medical facility is in Singapore, which is a five-hour flight from Diego Garcia," said Passons.

Cesa says the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine course is important in that it's helping advance a trend within the Defense Department toward aeromedical evacuation standardization.

See Caption.
Students enrolled in the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine's flight nurse aeromedical evacuation course learn to secure litters aboard a C-130 at Brooks City Base, Texas. U.S. Air Force photo by Rudy Purificato

"We're learning to talk the same lingo and practicing the same aeromedical procedures using the same equipment," he said.

This is especially important to the Navy where few medical professionals have been trained in aeromedical evacuation.

Historically, flight surgeons and ship's nurses have been used as medical attendants aboard medical evacuation flights that transport primarily non-combat casualty patients.

Cesa said the course here is critically important to everyone involved in aeromedical evacuation during the post 9/11 era.

He's attending it in preparation for his assignment at the Global Patient Movement Requirements Center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The U.S. Public Health Service flight nurses are attending the course to support mission requirements of the 6,000-plus member service that comes under the auspices of U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

This uniformed service was originally created by President John Adams on July 16, 1798 to handle public health issues associated with immigration.

"The Bureau of Immigration Custom Enforcement, formerly the Immigration & Naturalization Service, charters flights for non-native residents who are being deported," Morin said.

He explained that a U.S. Public Health Service flight nurse is required on these flights to administer medications.

"They are ambulatory patients," said McGee, a Rochester, N.Y., native who previously served in the Air Force. The detainees who he and Morin process always require flight nurse escorts, especially those that suffer from psychosis.

"We escort them on flights to ensure their safe passage without incident," says Morin, referring to what U.S. Public Health Service calls non-scheduled flights to places other than Mexico, such as Pakistan, Cambodia and China.

The U.S. Public Health Service Division of Immigration Health Service operates about a dozen detention centers stateside. From there, many detainees are deported via charter flight.

"We average about 200 people per flight," said Morin, noting that the detention center at Florence, Ariz. where he is assigned processed 20,000 illegal immigrants in 2005.

The influx of alien immigration has brought with it a variety of communicable diseases.

"We've seen a huge increase in tuberculosis cases among the detainees," Morin said, noting that other medical emergencies run the gamut from diabetes and cardiac problems to detainee injuries sustained in beatings from smugglers.

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