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Rainier Medic course improves readiness levels of medical units

by Sandra Pishner
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

6/12/2014 - McChord Field, Wash. -- The 446th Aeromedical Staging and 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadrons at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington hosted a cadre of nine instructors and about 150 participants for a mobile Aeromedical Evacuation and Patient Staging Course, calling it "Rainier Medic."

From May 27 to June 6, medical Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard from across the country Airmen were here for the medical training designed to qualify medical professionals and specialists for deployments.

The classroom for the course was spread across JBLM as the medical technicians, nurses, doctors and health administrators made use of McChord Field, a training area on Lewis Main, as well as Gray Army Airfield, and the McChord Field flightline.

Units joining the 446th ASTS and AES for this training included instructors from Air Education and Training Command's 937th Training Support Squadron, Camp Bullis, Texas, and student Reservists and Guardsmen from 16 other units.

"The course was an unmitigated success," said Col. Sam Barringer, 446th ASTS commander. "The AETC team was outstanding, professional and fun to work with. That team consisted of nine experts whose efforts provided certificates and course credit to 150 dedicated Airmen. That is unprecedented and never been done before."

This is the first time the AEPSC has gone mobile, a fact that proved to be challenging.

"For our mobile course here, we did not have time to accomplish a site survey, which really helps us logistically because then we know our timing," said Capt. Katherine Kasch, 937th TSS. "We work off of a scripted exercise so we cue this action or that action. We need to have it all scripted to have everything flow very well to meet our training objectives. Making the course mobile really helped us refine it. I see us doing this more often."

The course here included two live C-17 flights a day, over a four-day period, challenging the team with the timing of training cues.

"At home station we don't fly live missions; we have static displays, so (the training scenario) is not dependent on real missions. So if a time gets busted there, we're not so affected because we're not dealing with real aircraft," said Kasch. "Flying live missions really helped open our eyes to how our scripted scenario needs to be built and timed."

Timing is important when training for a 24-hour operation in a standard business day.

"Typically in a deployed setting it's a 24 hour operation; you always have missions going and coming," said Kasch. "So we had to figure out how to fit that in a day that starts at seven and ends at four and still be able to accomplish all our objectives."

Figuring things out included what adjustments need to be made to the course.

"In the hot wash with that team, they indicated they had many aha moments," said Barringer. "Since their course is all done on static aircraft, they found that having actual flights gave them some fodder to make their course syllabus more robust. They taught us a ton; they learned a few things too."

Although logistically it was a challenge bringing the course on the road, it paid off in the number of medical Airmen trained.

"Usually we have to go down to Camp Bullis to get in the course, but it's really hard to get in a slot," said Capt. Paul Hall, 446th ASTS executive officer. "It's very rare that you can get a slot unless you're on the verge of deploying. We have seven UTCs (unit type codes) and we have about 60 to 70 people assigned to those UTCs. It affects our readiness rating. It was our idea to see if we could bring the course to us because we couldn't get slots," he added.

Three Air Force commands compete to get slots in the course - Air Mobility Command, Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard.

At the end of the course, 150 Airmen were given initial AEPSC credit. Two units took three steps up in their readiness levels. About 140 people accomplished their annual skills training, and 30 aeromedical evacuation members will get AEOT and AELT credit.

"We conducted eight missions from the CSH to the en route patient staging to aeromedical evacuation and went wheels up and returned to McChord Field for patient recovery. We also had our Critical Care Transport Team fly on every mission," said Barringer.

According to Barringer, many comments in the participants' critiques mention this was the best course they had attended in their careers.

"The training we're getting in this course is exceptional," said 1st Lt. Nicole Howard, 446th AES flight nurse. "I've been in previous exercises and I feel like the growth I've had both in the global system, and the validation process at the field level, was extensive."

The course is a fairly new mesh of the ASTS and AES mission, with Airmen having different responsibilities for the patients in their care. They must work together seamlessly to successfully execute their missions.

"Training with the ASTS, I've have gotten to see the extent of their training and we can better appreciate the movement and clinical handoffs between the host facility to our ERPS to the aeromedical team," said Howard. "It's funny because I've spent years growing in my depth of knowledge as a flight nurse, but it's really taken this training course for me to assemble all the pieces and put in context that realism in how we communicate and how important that link is to move the patient to the best level of care."

One course participant is no stranger to the classroom, currently enrolled as a fulltime student studying biological sciences.

"This is my first time being a player in anything like this," said Senior Airman Jacob Garvin, a Reservist from the 302nd ASTS, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. "Just seeing how it functions and the different sections is really interesting. You can learn about it all you want in the classroom, but until you're out physically doing it, you just don't know. I'm a med tech, but here I've done security, patient assessments, patient transport, loading and unloading on the flightline."

Also no stranger to the classroom is Air National Guardsman, Tech Sgt. Tanya Donelson, 145th Medical Group, Charlotte, North Carolina. Donelson is a high school science teacher. Despite missing two weeks near the end of the school year, she took the opportunity to keep teaching while also learning.

"I teach anatomy and I'm a medic, that's my passion. Since I've been here I've sent (my students) pictures and I stay in contact with them, keeping up to date on what I'm learning and doing. I'm missing the last two review weeks, but I'll be back for exams," she said.

The Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard perform about 95 percent of the aeromedical evacuation and patient staging mission. The AEPSC is critical to unit mission readiness.

"Everybody has some hands on every aspect of a mission at some point. This is their dry run before they get deployed. The idea of our course is not to make you an expert, but to be familiar with what the expectations are in a deployed setting," said Kasch.

The 446th Airlift Wing's medical teams on paper and in real time are ready to deploy.

"And our hand is way up," said Barringer.