OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Tying the knot is an important day filled with high anticipation for many people. Unfortunately for one Airman, the day went from a joyous occasion to the brink of tragedy.
Suffering a critical illness, the groom was taken to a South Korean medical facility. After careful evaluation, it was determined a special team of medics needed to be called upon – and the 51st Medical Group (MDG) answered the call.
The team was simultaneously responsible for coordinating the aeromedical evacuation mission to transport two other patients as well. In under 50 hours, the 51st MDG ‘aced’ their ultimate test – saving lives.
For Staff Sgt. Kristalynjon Arenas, 51st Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of patient travel, amid the stress factors of time constraints, patient movement and logistics, the reward of a patient thanking her for saving their life was priceless.
“Being thanked by a patient for making their transport process smooth made me happy,” said Arenas. “This was my first aeromedical evacuation mission so it was definitely challenging. My team was great and played a key role getting the patients to their next destination.”
Upon notification, the 51st Medical Group worked tirelessly, orchestrating actions that would transport three individuals across the world to Hawaii’s Tripler Army Medical Center for continued care. After coordination with South Korean Medical facilities, Osan’s medics partnered with Yokota Air Base’s 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron for a Critical Care Air Transport Team.
A KC-135 Stratotanker landed on Osan’s flightline with a five-hour window to transport the patients. Osan’s capability to perform as a staging facility gave the 51st MDG the platform to get hands-on in the process, ensuring synchronized actions to direct movement, logistics, medications, baggage and food.
“We have to be prepared for this mission set anywhere in the world,” said Capt. Daniel Stern, 25th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon. “In recent years, aeromedical evacuation’s mission has staged in the Middle East but it’s a great opportunity to do similar mission sets with varying medical issues here.”
By continuing care at the closest capability, the 51st MDG was able to maximize a target of opportunity like this to make the best use of the Air Force’s assets.
Although this unique mission was a first for Stern and Arenas, they hope to utilize this experience to implement enhanced strategies in an emergency like this.
“While this mission was a first a lot of us and it went so smooth, it was a great teaching opportunity,” said Stern. “Every case and mission is different so we have to be prepared for anything. It takes a total team effort and we had awesome people who love and care about what they do to make this mission successful.”
According to Maj. Phillip Strawbridge, 51st MDG chief of medical staff, total force integration made the saves possible.
“The key was that this was a whole effort with between the 51st Medical Group and our partnership with the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Theater Patient Movement Requirements Center, and Tripler Army Medical Center,” said Strawbridge. “Further partnerships within our base on the flightline and base operations showed a collective team effort.”