OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Chaos ensues on the flightline as 30 battered and bruised patients ail from injuries suffered during simulated wartime contingencies. Responsible for rapidly responding and stabilizing the situation, a special crew of U.S. Air Force and Army medical professionals rush to the scene with one objective: to safely care and transport Army soldiers onto a C-130J Super Hercules en route to a medical treatment facility at Yokoto Air Base.
Utilizing Osan Air Base’s flightline for its patient staging capabilities, the 51st Medical Group and Fort Shafter, Hawaii’s 18th Medical Command jointly operated in Operation Ascending Eagle, Aug. 28, 2019, with their mission to enhance their rapid treatment of traumatized patients in a large casualty emergency.
For Lt. Col. Jennifer Lavergne, 51st Medical Support Squadron commander, improving interoperability with the Army was an invaluable experience.
“It’s rare having the opportunity to [train] with our sister services with this level of realism,” said Lavergne. “[Operation Ascending Eagle] enabled us to build our relationship and interoperability with our Army counterparts and also helped us identify our strengths and opportunities with regards to patient movement, which encompasses both inbound/outbound and regulated/unregulated processes.”
While the training opportunity exposed the 51st Medical Group medics to the aeromedical evacuation process and conducted patient movement training, the Army ensured the Air Force had accurate data for patient tracking and precise communication for patient departure and arrival in Japan.
“The [18th MEDCOM] is explicitly designed to support other Army units, but medicine is inherently a joint function,” said Col. Edward Bailey, 18th MEDCOM commander. “We always end up coming together across all the services to provide medical care. As the only general officer tactical medical command in the Pacific, we recognize that we will always be working with the other services, and this is a great opportunity to for us to do so.”
As the exercise intensified on the hot cargo pad, both services overcame the challenges of integrating while relaying consistent and accurate information.
“We never want to lose a patient, or place them on the wrong aircraft because of miscommunication and that’s what this exercise is all about – (properly) communicating between the commands at all different levels to participants on the (Korean) Peninsula, to Japan and Hawaii.”
By exchanging best practices, both units increased their individual readiness and bilateral interoperability and hope to train extensively in the future to make large patient movement a normality instead of rarity.