STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. – Flight medics rushed to stabilize a patient and move the litter onto a waiting LC-130 Hercules aircraft, a life-saving training exercise where minutes and hours can mean life or death for casualties.
The event was a training exercise on July 30 at the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, parent unit of the 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
Airmen who routinely train for overseas missions to handle combat casualties also prepare for disasters at home where their skills might save the lives of fellow Americans.
The exercise, part of a coordinated National Disaster Medical System Exercise, included several local agencies from across the Capital District.
The joint agency training helps build much better familiarity with those other response agencies before a disaster occurs, noted New York Air National Guard Capt. Richard Legault, Operations Flight Commander in the 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
“Understanding our state mission,” Legault said, “which separates us from our active duty counterparts, we realize how important interagency cooperation is when disaster strikes that is why we along with our civilian partners participate in these field training exercises.” “When disaster strikes, like a Hurricane Sandy, we are better prepared to operate effectively and seamlessly in a joint interagency environment,” he said.
Agency partners in the training included the Albany Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Disaster Medical System, the Civil Air Patrol and the East Glenville Fire Department.
Coordinating such diverse groups under a unified effort requires practice and communication, Legault stressed.
During the training, patients were stabilized for transport, loaded onto an LC-130 Hercules and evacuated by members of the 139th, who were sharpening their skills for medical evacuation missions.
The simulated patients, volunteer cadets from the Civil Air Patrol, were moved from a staging site at the East Glenville Volunteer Fire Department to Stratton and then loaded onto an LC-130 for transport.
For the Air National Guard, the shift in focus from an overseas contingency operation to disaster response is a seamless one, made even more realistic with the agency partners during training.
“These types of joint training exercises demonstrate the dual-use value of the Air National Guard will continue to deliver homeland forces to the nation, states, territories, and district in times of need, and strengthen enduring relationships at home and abroad,” said Lt. Col. Brian Backus, commander of the 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
The National Disaster Medical System is intended to enhance the medical response during a crisis by combining federal and non-federal medical resources. It is federally coordinated, but includes medical resources at the state, county and local level when disasters strike.
“The National Disaster Medical System combines federal and non-federal medical resources into a unified response to meet natural and man-made disaster needs, as well as support patient treatment requirements from military contingencies,” Backus said.
The training also highlighted to important role of the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia. The facility is designated as a federal coordinating center, one of only 10 National Guard bases with this responsibility.
The role of Stratton during a medical disaster is to recruit hospitals and maintain local non-federal hospital participation in the National Disaster Medical System. The leaders and staff of the 109th Airlift Wing support that role in coordinating exercises and emergency plans with participating hospitals and other local authorities.
The goal is to establish patient reception, transportation, and communication plans, and during system activation in a crisis, coordinate the reception and distribution of patients being evacuated to the area.
Members of the New York Air National Guard and the 109th Airlift Wing already have a good deal of experience with such response efforts following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.