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CHIPS Articles: Aeromedical Evacuation

Aeromedical Evacuation
The more things change, the more they stay the same - Sept. 5, 2013
By Peg Nigra, U.S. Transportation Command - September 5, 2013
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – Picture this: Enemy fire has crippled a fighter and forces the pilot to bail out. The winds blow his parachute around, and he lands hard. Among his injuries is a broken leg with the bone sticking through the flesh. Medics arrive, stop the bleeding, and transport him to a forward operating base within an hour. There he is placed on an aircraft and flown to a field hospital. Doctors determine he should be sent back to the states for treatment. He and a number of other patients are loaded onto a long range airlift aircraft outfitted with racks of litters and looked after by a team of nurses and medical technicians. Forty-five hours later, he is in a regional military hospital in the southern United States.

Sound familiar? It has been a common enough scenario during the past 12 years of war in Southwest Asia. But our pilot bailed out of his aircraft over Sicily in 1943, not over Iraq or Afghanistan. The plane flying him to that hospital away from the battle zone was a C-47, not a C-130. And he flew back to the States on a C-54, not a C-17.

In 1942, the mission of Air Transport Command (ATC) — a precursor of today’s Air Mobility Command — evolved from ferrying aircraft from the U.S. to Britain to transporting passengers (including patients) and cargo to and from the U.S., Europe, Africa, India, Alaska, and the Pacific. By the end of the war in 1945, ATC had transported more than 300,000 casualties.

In 2013, U.S. Transportation Command and its component, Air Mobility Command, are responsible for providing the Department of Defense with global patient movement. This includes patients transported from battle zones, after natural disasters, and injured or sick military around the world.

Aeromedical evacuation has changed so much in the past 70 years — or has it? Yes, the planes in 2013 are faster and bigger, and the medical equipment and procedures are more advanced. What hasn’t changed is the tenet of patient movement— give wounded service members the best possible medical treatment in theater and, if necessary, transport them to a stateside medical facility for more specialized treatment.

For more USTRANSCOM news, visit http://www.transcom.mil/news/.

Nurse Katye Swope, a member of the 802d Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron, checks the litter patients aboard a plane for evacuation from Agriegento, Sicily, to Africa for further medical treatment. (25 July 1943) Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Nurse Katye Swope, a member of the 802d Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron, checks the litter patients aboard a plane for evacuation from Agriegento, Sicily, to Africa for further medical treatment. (25 July 1943) Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

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