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NEWS | May 25, 2010

Airmen, Afghans execute reverse medical evacuations

By Tech. Sgt. Oshawn Jefferson U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs

SOUTHWEST ASIA - The aim of military medicine is to get war-fighters healed and back to the battlefield - or to their families - as quickly as possible, but in Afghanistan there are transportation issues.

Airmen from the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group and Soldiers with the Afghan national army air corps conduct "reverse" medical evacuations to get medically-treated Afghans back to their units or closer to home.

"Since our first mission in February, our Afghan medics have made significant strides," said Capt. Cassie Ayott, 438th AEAG flight nurse advisor, deployed from the 139th Aeromedical Squadron at Stratton Air National Guard Base, N.Y. "The Afghans are moving to the forefront of this mission and are on target toward our goal of them conducting this mission without our help."

Members of the ANAAC and the Combined Air Power Task Force's 438th AEAG advisor completed a historic mission when they flew the first, joint, rotary-wing medical evacuation from Bagram Airfield to FOB Lightning in Gardez, Afghanistan, Feb. 3.

"Now our team has transported more than 30 Afghanistan national army and ANAAC Soldiers, and local nationals to medical facilities and FOBs across Afghanistan," said Capt. Ayott, a native of Townsand, Mass. "Each time we do it the ANAAC medics get better and better."

The goal of the medical evacuations is to allow Afghan medical personnel to access remote towns and villages where medical care is not adequate or transportation is not available to assist in critical situations. Also, it frees up bed space in coalition medical facilities, and allows Afghans to provide medical care for their countrymen in Afghan hospitals with Afghan medical staffs.

"This mission really makes me proud," said Sgt. Malik Hamet, ANAAC flight medic and one of six Afghans working with the 438th AEAG. "I have learned so much about this mission and I get to help my people every day. It is nice to put a smile on someone's face and contribute to the security of Afghanistan."

During the reverse medical evacuations, Afghan medics are trained on patient care, patient movement, safety, sanitization and patient movement coordination. Their Airmen advisors are not only seeing improvements in the way the Afghans are learning their in-flight duties, but also the way they're taking a great role in the process.

"Currently, we have patient movements every Wednesday," said Maj. John Modra, 455th Expeditionary Medical Group Intensive care ward flight commander for the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. "The most important benefit of this mission is the ability to move patients with less debilitating conditions. This allows the medical facility to receive more patients requiring critical care. Another benefit is the way the Afghans are taking a more active role in coordinating this important mission."

A role Afghan civilian contractor Nesar Jahid, Craig Joint Theater Hospital discharge planner, relishes.

"I get the request and I do all the coordination for Afghan patients, talking with their families and hospitals near their homes or home units," Jahid said. "I love what I do. I feel like I am doing something important for Afghanistan and I get to help my friends at the hospital here."

Not only are the medics getting a chance to enhance their medical-evacuation skills but the Airmen and Afghan pilots get an opportunity to sharpen their interoperability while flying the critical med-evac missions.

"This is a great mission for us to be a part of," said Lt. Col. Gregory Roberts, 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander deployed from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va. "We get a chance to showcase the many uses of the Mi-17 and contribute to a mission that directly benefits the people of Afghanistan. It's a mission we look forward to executing as we continue to build lasting relationships with local communities throughout Afghanistan."

As the U.S. Air Force- and Afghan-led medical evacuations continue, advisors here see a bright future for this mission-critical operation.

"It's awesome to be a part of a process that you see continued growth in," said Ayott, a New York Air National Guardsman. "I can see a future where the Afghans can conduct this mission with very little or no U.S. assistance at all; and that make me feel good. I feel like we're making a difference and Afghanistan and its people will reap the benefits."