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Dobbins reservists play cirtical role in airlifting wounded warriors

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Craig Lifton
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Their mornings start with a briefing in a small building on the edge of the flightline. Wearing tan flight suits, the five Airmen receive their weapons and begin going over their checklists. These Airmen from the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron are not preparing for a standard combat mission; they are readying themselves to go in harm's way for their fellow servicemembers in support of an aeromedical evacuation mission.

They move out to a C-130 Hercules transport plane with two trucks loaded with bandages, medical equipment and stretchers. Working in unison, they configure the cargo area to resemble an ambulance. Members of the aircrew from the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron then board the plane, and the engines roar to life.

"Our mission is to take care of the wounded warriors," said Maj. David Rodberg, an Air Force Reserve Command flight nurse deployed from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. "We provide in flight medical care to make sure they get to a higher echelon of care.

"You never know when you go into a forward-operating base what kind of patients you're going to get," said the reservist, a native of Atlanta. "We always plan for the worst."

The first stop is Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq, where a lone Soldier, Pfc. Charles Howard, a 1st Cavalry Division military policeman, walks onto the plane. He sits near the front of the plane, and Tech. Sgt. Daniel Wood, an aeromedical technician, gives him a safety briefing and checks his pulse. The C-130's engines never shut down and soon the back ramp closes, and the plane takes off again.

"I take care of all the ambulatory patients, the ones that can walk on their own," said Sergeant Wood, another reservist from Dobbins ARB. "I also take care of their baggage.

"This is a great mission," said the native of Kennesaw, Ga. "It makes me feel good to go out there and bring servicemembers back to better medical care."

A steady rain welcomes the plane as it lands at Mosul, Iraq. Medics carry a Soldier and an American civilian aboard on stretchers and lock the stretchers in place. Another servicemember is able to walk on the C-130. The medical team works on the new passengers. One has acute appendicitis and needs special equipment.

"The 777th EAS likes getting these AE missions," said Capt. Andrew Keil, the navigator on this mission who is from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. "It's one of the most important missions.

"We have a good relation with the AE, us and our loadmasters," he said.

The plane takes off again. Major Rodberg and his team continue their work on the flight. The plane shakes from the turbulence of the leading edge of rough weather. Through rain and even a sandstorm, the team cares for the patients. When dust from the storm begins to come into the cargo area, the team gives the patients face masks.

The C-130 lands several more times that day, picking up Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and a Sailor. The new passengers all have one thing in common: they need a higher level of medical attention than what they can receive at their location. At Joint Base Balad, the Air Force theater hospital boasts a 98 percent survivability rate.

During the mission, the team is supported by 777th EAS loadmasters, who help the AE crew when needed, to include marshaling ambulances near the aircraft to bring the wounded closer to the C-130's ramp.

"I love this mission," said Airman 1st Class Brian Krause, a loadmaster deployed from Little Rock AFB. "This is one that really means something."I feel like I'm part of helping these servicemembers."

During the flight, one patient had a new medical condition arise and needed to have medicine introduced intravenously. Normally, this would be a simple task for the AE crew, but the plane is dark inside by now. With flashlights, the team prepares the IV and with well-seasoned training, a member of the team inserts the needle. The patient soon feels better.

"The people really know what they are doing," said Army Staff Sgt. John Hunt, a Washington Army National Guardsman communications specialist with the 2-146 Field Artillery, who had a broken leg and was being transported for further care.

"The care I am getting from them is excellent," he said.

After several stops, and hours later, the C-130 returns to Joint Base Balad. A small group of medical people from the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility and volunteers wait with stretchers and buses. Through an orchestrated and rehearsed process, the wounded warriors are removed from the aircraft and put on the buses and driven off to the theater hospital.

"I love this mission," said Major Rodberg. "It's about these guys and getting them to more definitive care and back to their loved ones."  (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)