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Volunteers take flight in casualty evacuation exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
As he heard the C-130 circle around the flightline before landing, Airman 1st Class Oliver Howe, 1st Special Operations Medical Support Squadron, started grinning.

"That's when I knew this exercise was for real, and I knew this would be fun," he said.

Airman Howe was among the dozen Airmen who posed as casualties for medical students while flying in a C-130 during an exercise for the Air Force Special Operations Training Center casualty evacuation course Oct. 26 and 27.

While aboard the C-130, the students must provide advanced trauma life support to patients during the flight. This is just one part of the course designed for operational support medical personnel to display their skills learned while in the course.

"This isn't a pass-or-fail test. It's just required training for the course," said John Frentress, Tactical Operations Medical Skills Center trainer. "We want them to get as realistic an experience as they can up in the air here before they go into the theater."

Part of the success of that experience depends on the volunteers who step forward to sport the fake wounds and corn-syrup blood for the exercise. The selection process for one of the two 45 minute flights aboard military aircraft began with a simple e-mail posting days before the flight.

"We take volunteers on a first-come, first-served basis. In some cases, we get twice as many as we actually need," Mr. Frentress said. "For some of the volunteers, it's the only time they'll ever get to be in a C-130."

Airman Howe was one of those volunteers, and the daytime exercise was his first time flying in a C-130.

Tech. Sgt. Janine Bennett, 1st Special Operations Force Support Squadron, has volunteered for five CASEVAC exercises. She said that each opportunity is a chance to do something special.

"I will soon retrain to be a loadmaster, so I may possibly be working with these doctors in the future," she said.

After the moulage was applied, the volunteers were strapped down onto stretchers and waited to be picked up by medics. Once the volunteers were lifted into the C-130, students checked their vital signs as the pilots conducted evasive maneuvers at low flight. The conditions of the flight soon overcame the acting ability of some of the volunteers.

"You can't see the next turn, but you can feel it. I saw a little window right above me for reference, but all you could see was clouds," Airman Howe said. "It was very nauseating, and some of the volunteers were not able to handle it."

Sergeant Bennett pretended to phase in and out of consciousness as doctors applied a simulated tourniquet on her leg. She likened the experience to a roller coaster.

"It tickles your stomach, and you can get thrown around," she said. "The students were very nice and would always ask if I was OK, both as part of the exercise and in the real world."

The experience during the flight is not lost on the medical personnel either. While the volunteers are adjusting to the flight, the students still have a task to perform.

"You can't hear, you can't see, and you can't tell what it is going on at times," said Maj. James Tyler, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

"It's amazingly difficult, but it can only add to the real experience, so it's a plus. Once you get used to it by doing it several times, it can get routine."

When the plane landed and the exercise was over, volunteers and medical personnel said they walked away with a better appreciation of the course.

"I'm impressed how quickly they worked under those circumstances," Airman Howe said. "I'm glad to know this will help them when they are in the war zone helping real wounded victims."

"The volunteers were great," said Lt. Col. Dan Luther, 352nd Special Operations Group, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. "To have them adds realism, and it's something that we need. We also appreciate the flight crew for taking the time out to do this. They were very friendly."

When asked about the experience, both Sergeant Bennett and Airman Howe said they would not hesitate to step forward for the next exercise.

"I was full of adrenaline when it was over. It's just cool to be in a C-130, and I'd like to do it again," Sergeant Bennett said.

Since May 2006, CASEVAC is required training for personnel filling positions in Special Operations Forces Medical Elements and Special Operations Critical Care Evacuation Teams. The initial training is designed to give personnel an understanding of how to plan for and conduct the CASEVAC mission on aircraft or vehicles of opportunity in the tactical environment. Students receive training in the following areas: CASEVAC medical equipment, aircraft familiarization, on- and off-loading of casualties and advanced medical care in-flight.