RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Mounting evacuations have led the Air National Guard to start fielding critical care air transport teams, medical specialists who treat severely injured servicemembers during flight.
“The active-duty side is getting heavily stressed continually manning all these missions,” said Air Force Dr. (Lt. Col.) Raymond Fang, trauma director at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. “So having another pool of personnel who are capable and willing to help is welcome.”
At least one, three-member critical care air transport team, or CCATT, from the Air Guard will be stationed at Ramstein Air Base for the next two years, said Brig. Gen. John D. Owen, assistant to the command surgeon for Air Mobility Command. The team’s primary mission will be to care for patients as they make the long journey across the Atlantic to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, and then on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. But the team could deploy worldwide, including to Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa.
“They could be airborne to anywhere in the globe in three hours,” Owen said.
The Air Guard currently has about 18 CCATTs from 17 states.
To make it easier for the guardsmen to take time off from their day jobs, the tours have been shortened to between 30 and 120 days, Owen said.
“Our civilian physicians, many of them have private practices, and they cannot leave for long periods of time,” he said. “This allows them to come over here.”
Created in the early 1990s, the CCATTs use a variety of instruments — including heart monitors, ventilators, defibrillators, suction instruments, and other devices compact and rugged enough to withstand the stress of flight — to treat patients who normally would not be able to be evacuated. But treating patients in the confines of the aircraft is not akin to a hospital’s intensive care unit.
“Planning is extremely important,” said Dr. (Col.) Bruce R. Guerdan, state air surgeon for the Florida Air National Guard, who is leading the guard’s first CCATT rotation at Ramstein. “You have a lot of capabilities, but the only capabilities you have are the ones you bring with you. You can’t call for extra supplies or extra blood or the specialist while you are flying over the Atlantic or flying downrange.”
Guerdan met his team for the first time last week. They all come from different guard units, but they quickly meshed.
In a CCATT, he said, “everybody needs to know what everybody else is doing. We’re working as one person with six hands.”
Not only do the guardsmen provide much needed manpower, Fang said, but they also bring expertise. Guerdan has worked in emergency medicine for more than two decades.
“There is not a wealth of critical care experience on the active duty side all the time,” Fang said. “The guard folks, that’s what they do in their everyday job in civilian hospitals all over the U.S.”
This is not Guerdan’s first time leading a CCATT. He had been a part of the Air Guard’s previous critical care air transport program, which was shut down about five years ago. He is eager to be doing it again.
“You do all this intensive training,” he said, “and you want to use it. Also is there a more important mission? I don’t think so.”