The evolution of Aeromedical Evacuation (AE) in the United States has been nothing short of transformational and unrivaled by any other country across the globe. Aeromedical evacuation concepts emerged in the 1930s and refinements in patient movement continued in short haul C-47s with the Army Air Corps over Germany in the 1940’s. The current state of the art, is a C-17 Globemaster flying non-stop missions, delivering intensive care capability while simultaneously carrying heavy patient loads, in excess of 40 patients from Iraq to Germany or directly to the continental US (CONUS). The Total Force AE team has performed with professionalism, true compassion, and incredible heroism.
Today’s AE system is a comprised of dedicated professionals from Active, Reserve and Guard units. The AE system includes Flight Nurses, Aeromedical Evacuation Technicians, Administration Technicians, Medical Service Corps Officers, Communications Specialists, Liaison Teams, Critical Care Air Transport Teams (CCATTs), including Physicians, Critical Care Nurses and Respiratory Technicians, and AE Staging Facility Staff. Teamed with Pilots, Loadmasters, Flight Engineers, AE C2 Elements, and Ground Support personnel, the AE mission rolls forward seven days a week around the globe.
Over the past decade the incredible success of AE transformation with light, lean Unit Type Codes (UTCs), critical care capability and velocity coupled with airlift core competencies has led to the practice of rapid evacuation and rapid replacement of forward deployed combat forces. In the Vietnam conflict it may have taken up to 45 days for a wounded soldier to return back to CONUS. In Operation Desert Storm (1991), the U.S. employed a large theater hospital lay-down with a 30 day treatment and return to duty policy. Now in 2007, the AE system returns the injured and ill home to CONUS in 72 hours and as quickly as 24 hours. Concurrently, fresh troop replacements are being requested through the personnel system and pushed forward to the theater. This is a revolutionary change in conducting combat or contingency operations and AE has been a key player in this transformation on a national level. Today, AE crews have universal qualification on a variety of air mobility aircraft. Patients can move more quickly using in system selects versus a dedicated but much smaller pool of AE specific aircraft only a decade ago. Today the wounded are stabilized and in just a few hours or even 30 minutes from surgery, can be moving in the AE system with a critical care team attending. AE is now a full-fledged Air Mobility Core Competency fully integrated into our Airlift Operations and is a full mission partner as is Airiift and Aerial Refueling.
Chosen to represent the thousands of men and women who perform the AE mission, the AE Legacy Team is made up of members from various corps representative of the Total Force Active Duty, Reserve and Guard. These AE pioneers, with vision and dedication, have advanced AE performance and transformed this Airlift core competency to be the world leader in patient movement – “No One Else Comes Close.”
The AE Legacy Team
Lt Reba Whittle
It is appropriate to go back to the roots of AF AE, to recognize, Lt Reba Whittle, Army Nurse Corps. Lt Whittle was flying an air evac mission over Germany when the plane was shot down in September 1944. She and her crew were captured and imprisoned. Lt Whittle was wounded, yet performed nursing duties for the prisoners in the camp before they were repatriated to Switzerland. Lt Whittle was awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart. At the time of her capture she had flown over forty missions. Her injuries subsequently disqualified her from flying and her status as a POW was not revealed until much later. Finally in 1992, Lt Whittle (posthumously) was recognized formally as a prisoner of war. An Air Mobility Command award named in her honor, the “Reba Zitella Whittle Award,” is presented to deserving flight nurses who volunteer beyond the call of duty to care for the injured, while demonstrating the highest military and professional standards.
Capt Dennis Traynor and Lt Regina Aune
Two members of the AE Legacy Team, Capt Dennis Traynor (USAF Colonel ret) and Lt Regina Aune (USAF Colonel ret) were part of the historic Operation Babylift, in the waning months of the Vietnam conflict, wherein President Ford directed the Air Force to begin flying 2,000 orphans, many under the care of an American-operated hospital in Saigon, to refuge in the United States. Capt Traynor’s extraordinary skills in piloting a severely crippled C-5 directly contributed to the saving of 179 lives. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions on that fateful day. Flight nurse Lt. Regina Aune’s acts of valor that day typify the heroism that abounded following the tragic crash of the C-5 near Saigon – actions for which she received the Cheney Award for 1975. Her actions continued throughout a career of command and AE excellence, and embodies what the AE community is all about: dedication, sacrifice, innovation, and quality care.
Col (Dr.) Jay Johannigman
An incredible AE pioneer since 1992, Dr. Jay Johannigman, AF Reserve (IMA) is a veteran CCATT physician. His deployment to Tallil AB in southern Iraq in 2003 and his involvement with the incredible medical care saga of Saleh Khalef, a young Iraqi boy severely maimed while handling a land mine dramatically highlights the elements of expeditionary medicine, Airlift and AE/CCATT fusion. This type of amazing care has been repeated numerous times in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and without AE transformation it would not have been possible. Col Johannigman was recognized as a member of the 2007 Team of the Year by the Air Force and the Air Force Association for his performance as the deputy commander and wartime trauma surgeon with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad AB, Iraq, where he flew 12 critical care air transport evacuation missions transporting wounded members to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
LtGen P .K. Carlton
Former Air Force Surgeon General, Lt General P.K. Carlton (USAF ret), was an instrumental force in the development and ascension of critical care capability within the medical community. Even a decade ago, we would not have attempted to move dozens of critically injured patients within hours of injury to Germany or CONUS. The highly effective integration of Critical Care Air Transport teams and AE Crews has made possible the life saving missions including the USS Cole bombing evacuation response, hundreds of lives saved in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and OIF, direct delivery to the San Antonio Burn Center from CENTCOM AOR or sailors from PACOM burned in a boiler explosion on a U.S. ship.
CMSgt Rodney Christa
In just one year alone, CMSgt Rodney Christa, AF Reserve Command, an incredible AE leader, deployed in OEF as a AE Command Control (C2) leader, and led the Hurricane Katrina AE relief evacuation efforts from ground zero at New Orleans airport where he was the pivotal link. His actions and decisions during the initial hours created a successful foundation for fixed wing evacuation operations. He established civilian staging points, coordinated over 70 airlift missions, and conceptualized the medical contingent lay down resulting in zero lost time for airlift and re-deployment moves. His pinpoint accurate judgment and foresight expedited solutions to changing mission needs in support of the historic evacuation of 2,300 critical patients and 60 emergent medical missions in 96-hours, saving countless lives.
MSgt Mark McElroy
Flight technician MSgt Mark McElroy (USAF ret) is a legend in AE. He worked non-stop for days in the moments after 9-11 to pare and tailor the Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility (MASF) from a 5-vehicle, 39-person load-out to a 14-person force module that fit on two HUMMVEES and a single C-130. He again stepped up to the plate when CENTAF called in 2003, when he single-handedly salvaged and wired together a super MASF at Kuwait City International Airport and went forward with Marine Expeditionary Forces Combat Support medics as they drove toward Baghdad. The light and lean MASFs with secure communications were CENTAFs eyes and ears forward as the theater AE system was laid out to support initial operations at forward airfields. When his convoy was attacked he took heroic evasive driving actions and protected 14 members from hostile fire. He leveraged Marine C-130 backhauls with flyaway crew capability from the MASF, saving lives far forward in the battle allowing the Navy “Devil Docs” to focus energies on saving lives under the most austere conditions in the heat of the Iraqi desert.
Col Robert Brannon
The anchorman of the AE Legacay Team, Col Robert H. (Bob) Brannon (USAF ret) Medical Service Corps, typifies the AE “can do” mentality that all AE heroes and heroines have displayed. Bob has taken a key leadership role in the AE world. He deployed in numerous operations and in combat as an AE squadron commander. In Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm his team achieved astonishing results with a 99% survival rate for patients in combat. He was instrumental in many lives saved, while taking a care of his personnel, ensuring all came home safely from hostile threat arenas. He was a critical advocate of Joint training and helped to adeptly insert AE into the premier Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La with the U.S. Army. This platform continues today as a key preparatory center of excellence for Joint deployment readiness.
This team epitomizes the thousands of AE professionals who have conducted this noble mission for America in years past, and will do so in the years ahead. They and the AE community they represent, are most worthy of a place of distinct honor among the previous recipients of the A/TA Hall of Fame.