RAMSTEIN AIR FORCE BASE, BW, GERMANY
RAMSTEIN AIR FORCE BASE, Germany - In addition to providing medical personnel for the Critical Care Air Transport Teams, the Air National Guard has developed new technologies and processes that will help save lives.
“There is continuous quality improvement in place,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. John Owen, the Air Guard advisor to the Air Mobility Command air surgeon. “It’s like the difference in a 2006 Ford Taurus and a new one. They may look very similar from curb, but there are substantial differences in safety and redundancy that can make a difference in the outcome.”
For example, the lighting was replaced on the KC-135 Stratotanker. LED lights were used, because they give “a true appearance of the skin at 40,000 feet, in the middle of the night in a cramped airplane,” Owen said.
He added that new litter stanchions and intravenous pumps are also being continuously evaluated to provide better care.
“Those investments in care and equipment and processes are what driving down the fatality rate,” Owen said.
In fact, lethality rates have declined drastically over the years. In World War II, the rate was 30 percent, Vietnam was 24 percent and for Operations Iraq Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the lethality rate is nine percent, Owen said.
The biggest technological change to the aeromedical mission has been the transition from the C-141 Starlifter to the KC-135.
“Those planes are in the boneyard now,” said Dr. (Col.) Bruce Guerdan, a Florida Air Guard state surgeon who is a member of the first Air Guard CCATT currently deployed here. “The tanker was not designed to carry patients. We have changed lighting, oxygen systems, stanchions for the stretchers. That plane has been turned into something that it never was.”
The 50-year-old airframe is not the same plane it was about five years ago. “There has been a huge investment of times and energy to make those planes adequate air frames to carry patients,” Guerdan said.
Owen said the tanker was chosen, because it is fast, can carry a lot of fuel and can fly long distances.
“The KC-135 can fly back to the U.S. from Afghanistan unrefueled with the proper clearances,” he said. “The aircraft is very stable. It does have some limitations, but with the modernization it provides a very capable platform.”
He added that the C-17 is the premier aircraft for aeromedical evacuation, but the Air Force doesn’t have as many available for the mission.
“But there is no corner cut,” Owen said. “If an airman has to have that level of care that‘s what they will get.”
The lighting issue on the tanker was resolved by the maintainers at the 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard and a corporate partner, Patriot Taxiway Industries.
The two worked closely to develop a 12-light bar system. The KC-135 Cargo Lighting System was deployed last summer for flight testing with the Kansas unit.
"The [aeromedical evacuation] mission and the ability to support wounded warriors were improved by the leadership of [Air Force Lt. Gen. Tod] Bunting and his Kansas Coyote Air Guardsman,” said Kevin McDermott, vice president of Patriot. “Hearing from doctors that the Patriot lighting improved their ability to care for our country's critically wounded as we bring them home was humbling.”
The company has provided 16 portable LED cargo lighting system kits to Air Mobility Command in support of the aeromed mission.
The lighting kit is designed to be portable and installed in the aircraft for missions on an as-needed basic. This allows the Air Force and the Air National Guard to bring improvement to the KC-135 without having to install the lights across the entire 400 aircraft fleet and reducing the capital needed to revitalize the fleet, according to a press release from Patriot.
A press release also stated that Patriot's lighting system produces more than 30 times the illumination that the original lighting system generated.
Power generation was another issue that had to be resolved for the tanker. Owen recounted a CCATT mission that had to return to theatre, because there wasn’t enough generator power to provide the electricity needed for a critical patient.
The Air Force estimated that it would be 15 to 18 months before more than one CCATT patient could be carried on a KC-135.
The Kansas Air Guard maintainers came up with a solution in six weeks. “The Air Guard is very efficient in doing these things … because it is a smaller organization,” Owen said. “These mechanics have worked on that particular airplane for their entire 20- or 30-year career.”
Master Sgt. Jody Nitz, a respiratory therapist from the Michigan Air Guard, who is also a member of the first Air Guard CCATT, said in his field changes to the protocols have improved patient outcome.
“That may include using different ventilator strategies … to reduce lung injuries,” he said. “There are just a lot of different things that have changed with regard to our jobs and the protocols … dictating how we treat a specific patient.”
Aeromedical specialists have also had to adapt to a change in battlefield injuries. Improvised explosive devices and huge blast injuries have required massive transfusions for patients.
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This work, Air Guard develops new technologies for CCATT mission, by Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.