Ramstein medical staging area to move
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — As the flow of patients from Iraq continues unabated, Ramstein officials have decided to build a semipermanent home for a contingency medical ward now in an air base gym.
By mid-December, the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility will be moved from the southside gym to a new modular building just across the street, said Col. Charles Cotta, commander of the 86th Medical Group.
The gym will return to normal use after Christmas, he said. Since the contingency ward was set up in mid-March, only the northside gym has been open for use, causing crowded conditions — especially on the basketball courts, Cotta said.
The decision to build a new structure comes as the steady flow of patients from Iraq continues, with Landstuhl Regional Medical Center receiving an average of 44 patients a day.
More than 80 Air Force reservists set up the staging facility in the gym in March, just after the start of the war in Iraq. Their job is to move the patients from Ramstein’s flight line to the hospital for treatment. After treatment, patients return to the staging facility, where airmen prepare them for flights out of Germany.
Sixteen troops wounded when a Chinook helicopter was shot down Sunday in Iraq arrived at Ramstein on Monday on their way to Landstuhl.
More than 3,400 troops have been treated there, said staging facility commander Col. Mark Smyczynski. Patients also come from Afghanistan, Bosnia and missions in Africa.
“We used to be full every night,” Maj. Anthony Mazzola said of the patient arrivals in the early days of the war. Nevertheless, the facility still is used on a regular basis, with patients staying an average of one day.
Smyczynski’s unit, made up of 71 airmen from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and 15 airmen from Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Mass., will rotate back to the United States early this month.
The unit set up the facility, making the gymnasium a medical ward filled with more than 100 portable beds and turning the women’s showers into a USO center. A unit composed of active-duty and Reserve airmen will replace them for a regular rotation.
Eventually, Cotta said, active-duty airmen will run the new facility, which could be open for one to two years, depending on the Iraq mission.
The new building will have plenty of space for portable beds, handicapped-accessible showers and a larger USO area, Cotta said.
Smyczynski said the Reserve unit is ready to return home, adding that he believes the rotation is the longest continuous deployment for an Air Force Reserve unit. He is on the clinical faculty of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
“We thought we’d be here for a few months. Eight months is a long time,” Smyczynski said.
Tech. Sgt. Jeff Picard volunteered for the mission fixing biomedical equipment. He said the experience will help him in his civilian job as an emergency medical technician.
“I got my career from the Air Force. I felt I owed them something,” Picard said.
However, treating soldiers with critical injuries has been sobering.
Picard said he is looking forward to returning home to his wife, also an Air Force reservist, and their 21-month-old baby.