From the jungles of Southeast Asia to the dunes of Afghanistan, medical evacuation aircraft have always been a sign of hope and rescue, even in the darkest hours of combat. Sergeant Cassandra Kennedy, a 68W with the Massachusetts National Guard who spent a yearlong tour in Iraq last year, reveals the specialized training – split-second actions – it takes to succeed as a flight combat medic.
[The medical field is] a different realm of the military. You think of the power, might, and strength of the military, but I get to be on the other side of things and help people – keeping my Soldiers safe and healthy.
In the flight medic program, we train in flight simulators. It’s kind of the shell of an aircraft, and it’s set up with a ‘SimMan’ – a mannequin-like machine that can breathe and bleed. You can monitor its heart rate. We run through simulations of the things we would see overseas and what we would have to deal with in the back of an aircraft. It’s basically like working on a patient in the back of a large SUV.
Once you get back to your unit from training, you focus on flying with the crew and working on your crew coordination. Flight medics are all full members of the flight crew. We have to be qualified to do just as much as a crew chief.
When we’re called in for a medevac (medical evacuation), the seriousness of the injury is pretty substantial. In the back of an aircraft, it’s just you. It’s not like a civilian ambulance where you call in to the hospital and talk to a doctor. We have to know what to do by ourselves.
In Iraq, we had operations ready to go 24 hours. In addition to [U.S. troops], we were transporting civil Soldiers, contractors, intercountry nationals that were working from different bases, and a few Iraqi military.
A medevac request comes in on our radios, and we have to be off the ground within 15 minutes – that’s from getting the call, running to the aircraft, and taking off. While we were deployed, our average time company-wide was seven minutes. You drop whatever you’re doing, and you run.
In the air, we’ll coordinate with the medics on the ground and make sure everybody’s ready. We’ll try to land in a base area, but if we couldn’t do that we would land wherever the injury was. Once we land, we want to get the injured people into the aircraft and get them where they need to be as quickly as possible.
The patient would be ready for us – lined up in the LZ (landing zone). We’ll get a quick report from the medic on the ground, roll the people in the aircraft, and take off. That process is maybe less than five minutes.
In the aircraft, we’ll do our full head-to-toe assessment; put in an IV if they need it, hook them up to the monitor, provide fluids, apply a tourniquet – lifesaving measures. We’ll make sure there are not more injuries that weren’t reported. We’re also talking to the medical treatment facility to let them know what they need to do to get ready.
Once we’re landing outside the hospital, they already have a team waiting to help us get stationed at the aircraft. We’ll wheel the patient into the ER and give the doctors a quick report of what we did and what we gave, and then they take over.
Story and photo courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.