Flying emergency rooms are classrooms for first European and Africa aeromedical symposium
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 19, 2018
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — With winds gusting to more than 50 miles per hour on the tarmac, even the medical mannequins strapped to the litters looked cold with their bare plastic feet sticking out.
As windstorm Friederike wreaked havoc across Germany on Thursday, downing trees and grounding flights and rail service, U.S. troops and their counterparts from 12 European and African nations stuck to the training plan.
A little breeze couldn’t thwart the first-ever African and European aeromedical evacuation symposium, hosted by the Surgeon General’s office of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.
More than 40 flight nurses, physicians, pilots and planners from NATO and partner countries shared their experiences in airlifting wounded and sick patients on military aircraft. Despite the range of flying emergency rooms used by each of the nations — from the roomy C-17 to helicopters and single-engine turboprops — there was a lot of common ground, officials said.
“It’s a great way to build relationships because we share the same concerns, we share the same goals and our focus is our patients,” said Col. Jill Scheckel, USAFE-AFAFRICA command surgeon.
The four-day symposium ended Friday. Countries from Africa joining the U.S. were Angola, Gabon, Nigeria and Zambia; from Europe, the participating nations were Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Ukraine.
“It’s the first time that USAFE-AFAFRICA has broken the line between the European and African continents,” said Col. Ricardo Trimillos, the command’s international affairs division chief.
“We’ve been doing individual training and individual symposiums in Europe with Europeans and in Africa with Africans, but this is part of us recognizing all of this activity is global,” he said.
The information exchange wasn’t one-sided, officials said.
Nigeria and Ukraine, each of which is dealing with an active conflict within its borders, shared lessons on “how they are adapting to not having enough resources, not enough people” to meet the demands of “a very active rescue mission,” Trimillos said.
“We can apply that to our own procedures,” he said.
Ramstein’s 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron supports both the European and African theaters, said Maj. Jeremy Hicks, a flight nurse clinical nurse specialist with the squadron. The unit is involved in six to seven missions a month in Europe and about one a month in Africa, he said. Those numbers rise and fall depending on operations.
The focus of the week was on standardizing procedures for evacuating patients from a humanitarian crisis. But the same skills can be applied to combat operations, Trimillos said.
Participants spent time Thursday sheltered from the wind inside the belly of a Ramstein-based C-130J. The aircraft is typically used to ferry passengers and cargo all over Europe and Africa but can be reconfigured to accept a patient load of up to 90 litters.
Small groups from each country practiced lifting dummies from the tarmac and loading them inside the plane, where the litters were stacked and secured in rows. They saw how U.S. airmen communicate every step of the way, from “ready on the lift” to “come to me.” The latter was repeated to guide the litter-carrying crew to the proper place inside the plane.
“It seems like a simple thing,” Trimillos said of patient loading, “but when you’re talking about injured people, neck injuries or whatever, it’s a big deal.”
Participants practiced similar procedures inside a Romanian C-27. Smaller than the C-130, the cargo plane can also be reconfigured for aeromedical evacuation.
Zambia is expecting to get delivery of more than one C-27 later this year, said Col. Alepher Phiri, the staff officer for training in Zambia’s air transport command.
“It’s special that we’re seeing it now in person,” he said.