JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, AK — Twenty-six members of the New York Air National Guard’s 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, part of the 109th Airlift Wing, conducted training with the New York Air National Guard Alaska during Arctic Eagle-Patriot 22, an exercise held February 22 through March 10, 2022 at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska.
Arctic Eagle-Patriot 22 performed homeland security and emergency response missions across Alaska.
Attendees included Air National Guard and Army personnel, as well as serving members of the Air Force and Army alongside civilian agencies.
For Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing, the exercise was a good fit for a unit training for polar operations, Master Sgt. Diane Solmo, a health systems specialist with the 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
“There are other Patriot exercises run by the Air Guard that are similar, but this was specifically in an arctic type environment. Luckily for us, we have experience with that,” Solmo said.
The 109th Airlift Wing operates the Department of Defense’s only ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft. The 109th deploys annually to Antarctica and Greenland.
Aeromedical technicians train to provide medical care, similar to nurses and paramedics, while transporting patients on an airplane.
The training scenario required aeromedical transport for simulated patients following a series of earthquakes and chemical incidents in Alaska, Solmo said.
For four days, the aeromed crews trained on board a C-130 Hercules, a KC-135 Stratotankers and a C-17 Globemaster III.
Aeromedical evacuation Airmen trained to operate within the unique constraints and configurations of each aircraft type for patient care during transport, Master Sgt. Molly Newell, 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Technician.
“The main challenges were the types of patients and the space we had on a plane,” Newell said.
“One day we had about 30 patients. Some were able to walk, but most were on litters. We had to find enough room for everyone given that there was only one pallet position on a C-130, which was not feasible,” Newell continued.
Airmen also had to prepare for regulated and unregulated patients.
Regulated patients go through several levels of approval and readiness for airlift, while unregulated patients are immediately moved from the injury site and transported for further medical assistance.
“In a domestic operations scenario like this, it’s possible to see unregulated patients, like civilians who need to be evacuated to another medical facility,” Solmo said.
“It was crucial for Alaska to practice this due to its limited resources. It gave them the chance to practice using their joint task force and requesting assistance from the Guard and Federal forces,” Solmo continued.
Crews received patients in a wide range of situations, but not all needed life-saving care.
“In these training scenarios, you expect to have someone stop breathing, someone who has a chest tube or an IV, or a cardiac emergency – you don’t think about the personal things that might happen,” said Newell said.
In one scenario, aeromedical staff had to deal with a patient in distress whose family member did not survive the flight.
Several scenarios like this involved the use of religious support teams to solve personal and moral problems.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Newell said. “The scenarios tested how we reacted to unusual situations and helped chaplains think through the obstacles they would encounter on an airplane. For example, how to talk to an upset person in a noisy environment,” Newell said.
Another obstacle they faced was the expansive size of the air base. Airmen based at Stratton Air National Guard Base are much more accustomed to a small footprint for the entire wing.
“You can be 20 minutes from your gear and 20 more minutes from your launch zone. Someone who is on high alert is supposed to be able to take off in less than an hour. How do you make it work? Solmo said.
Adding to logistical issues, Airmen were assigned a new crew each day, rotating aero-medics from different Guards units to add complexity to the training.
“We all follow the same medical and flight rules, but each unit flies differently,” Newell said. “Combining flyers from different units forces you to think about your role as a whole,” Newell said.
“The constant flying over the four-day period exposed the technicians to a new kind of stress,” she said. team. We definitely had times when fatigue set in and we forgot about it. It really taught us that no matter how tired, stressed or sick of each other, we always have to come back. together,” Newell continued.
Scenarios taught players to stay flexible and rely on each other, Solmo said.
“After this exercise, I have full confidence that our new Airmen will continue to provide the best care in the world long after I’m gone, because that’s exactly what we do,” Solmo said.