KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron has been called upon once again to deploy personnel to multiple locations in support of the fight against COVID-19.
In 2020, the squadron saw nine volunteers out the door to various locations, and now, six more Reserve Citizen Airmen are set to deploy in the coming weeks to Travis Air Force Base, California and Ramstein Air Base, Germany for six months.
Among those deploying are first-timers Senior Airman Joseph Bernal, Senior Airman Chris Comeaux and Senior Airman Madison Ross, all flight medics.
“Generally, it’s rare for us to deploy, especially just coming out of training,” said Bernal, a relative newcomer to the squadron, “but I think this is a great opportunity.”
While at their deployed locations, the Airmen will do their part to safely transfer and care for COVID-19 positive patients as they are removed from remote locations and/or hospitals that cannot accommodate their medical needs to hospitals that can effectively treat them.
While the pandemic has become an unforeseen event that their job training could not have possibly fully prepared them for, the three feel confident that the Air Force has adequately prepared them and that they will become even more capable as they arrive at their deployment locations and receive mission-specific training.
Part of that training will be in becoming acquainted with the Negative Pressure Conex, said Bernal. The NPC is a vessel inside the aircraft equipped to harbor and allow treatment for infectious disease patients while protecting those outside of it from harmful airborne agents. They will also spend time familiarizing themselves with the various levels of personal protective equipment they will use during missions and how to properly don all of its elements.
“It’s exciting to put all of this training we’ve been doing to use in real-life situations,” said Ross. “It’s also nerve-wracking because it’s not your friend acting as a patient, you’re actually making a difference and potentially saving lives.”
Bernal, Comeaux and Ross will be working alongside other flight medics as well as flight nurses, as a typical crew consists of three medics and two nurses.
Comeaux described their role as being “extensions of the flight nurses.”
“Flight nurses are registered nurses, so they’re trained in more advanced stages of life support whereas we’re more focused on basic life support,” said Comeaux. “We’re more involved with configuring the aircraft and running the mission, granted they do take part in that that aspect too, it’s just important that they are able to focus more on the clinical, patient-care applications of the mission.”
One member who will serve in that advanced capacity of care is Capt. Toya Williams, 36th AES flight nurse, who will be providing her capabilities to the 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight at Ramstein.
“What we’re doing is so important,” said Williams. “We’ve got to get these people where they need to be, so they can get back to their jobs, be healthy and be with their families. That aspect is what I’m excited about.”
A traditional reservist who works as a travel nurse out of the Los Angeles area on the civilian side, Williams said her familial and employer support is what keeps her in good spirits and excited as she prepares to assist transferring and caring for patients all over the European and even African Command areas of responsibility.
In addition to the six deploying for COVID-19, the unit has eight more members leaving for Travis and Ramstein as well as Andrews AFB, Maryland and Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, said Lt. Col. Rosalind Johnson, 36th AES director of operations. While these individuals have not been tasked specifically for COVID-19 support, their deployments will most likely entail transporting COVID patients on top of a typical deployment’s transporting of patients with various illnesses and injuries.
“Our AE experts were some of the very first Airmen nationwide to deploy in the fight against COVID,” said Col. Jeffrey A. Van Dootingh, 403rd Wing commander. “But since the job is not yet done, we’ll continue to mobilize our medical Citizen Airmen to take care of their fellow Americans until this pandemic is over.”