An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Afghan National Army Air Corps completes historic flight to Bagram Airfield

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Richard Williams
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Members of the Afghan National Army Air Corps accompanied by 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group/Combined Air Power Task Force mentors completed a historic mission when they flew their Mi-17 helicopter during the first joint rotary wing medical evacuation from Bagram Airfield to Forward Operating Base Lightening, Gardez, Afghanistan, Feb. 3.

The mission was to transport an Afghan national who had been receiving care at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital on Bagram to a local medical facility in Gardez for continued care and allow the patient to be closer to home.

The success of this mission was a testament to the teamwork and dedication of many coalition units to include the ANAAC; two U.S. Air Force Units: the 438th AEAG and the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group and two U.S. Army units: Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division and the 36th Air Support Medical Company.

The completion of this significant mission, which took more than one and a half months of coordination between coalition personnel and their Afghan counterparts, was paramount to the nation's growth and capabilities, said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Kramer, 438th AEAG/CAPTF, ANAAC flight medic mentor.

"This is the first step for the Afghans to gain some independence and become part of the coalition to help us out," said Sergeant Kramer, deployed from the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Pope. "Them coming here and getting Afghan patients out of a coalition hospital and taking them to an Afghan hospital is big."

"The efforts and support from everyone involved has been amazing and I am happy to play a role helping the Afghan medical teams pave the way," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Cassie Ayott, 438th AEAG/CAPTF, flight nurse advisor.

Captain Ayott, deployed from the 139th Aeromedical Squadron, Stratton Air National Guard Base, N.Y., said the significance of this mission is that it's Afghans taking care of Afghans. "They are really eager to get this program working and give their people the best care possible."

As an advisor to the flight nurse program, Captain Ayott says that the program here is really in its infancy and the typical infrastructure seen at stateside locations has in the past been virtually nonexistent here, but the strides made in recent months have really gotten the ball rolling to make sure the program literally "takes off."

Sergeant Kramer points out the importance of the operation is twofold: first, this will allow Afghan medical personnel the ability to access remote towns and villages where medical care is not adequate or transportation is not available to assist in critical situations. Second, it will free up much needed bed space in coalition medical facilities, and allow the Afghans to provide medical care for their countrymen in Afghan hospitals with Afghan medical staffs. It also allows local national patients who have been treated at Bagram to receive continuing care in a facility closer to their families.

This significance is not lost on the medical professionals of the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group, who assisted with the coordination and transport on the recent rotary wing medical evacuation.

"It's hard on them (Afghan patients) not being close to their families, just as it is with anyone receiving medical care," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Demea Alderman, 455th EMDG, flight commander, patient administration.

Major Alderman, deployed from Robins AFB, Ga., and his team track all of the patients in and out of the Craig Joint Theater Hospital and ensure they receive the proper care. They also make sure if the patients leave they have a destination and the rotary medical evacuation is a key component.

Bed space in the hospital is limited, Major Alderman said and the ability to move patients with less debilitating conditions allows the medical facility to receive more patients requiring critical care.

Freeing up bed space in the facility is important, but Major Alderman also explains that there is another more important aspect for the mission and that is community relations.

"It allows us to build a better relationship with the Afghan communities by getting patients back to their residence and to their families who can assist with their care."

Major Alderman, Captain Ayott and Sergeant Kramer stress the importance of the support for the mission from the lowest level of planning and coordination to coalition leadership and the ANAAC.

Even with this first mission's success, there are still many steps that must be taken to ensure continued success and Sergeant Kramer emphasizes the importance of the equipment, crews and training that must continue.

"The medics come to us with basic ANA medical training under their belt," said Sergeant Kramer. "We try to build on what they know by teaching them how to do care in the air."

Airborne medical care has many more stressors that he explained can affect not only a patient but also the individuals administering the care. "There are many variables in the air like temperature, humidity, vibration, noise, altitude and barometric pressure that can affect a patient and crew during flight." He also noted that care capability can change based on different air frames.

Captain Ayott said, "We are really working on a crawl, walk, then run mentality. At this point we are going to be transporting stable and low level medical care patients." She points out that with the continued training, the ability to give critical care from the most remote locations will definitely be possible and that is the ultimate goal.

Sergeant Kramer said another goal is to make this a completely Afghan process and remove U.S. Forces assistance. He added that this will take time with limitations on the Afghan pilots flying into Bagram airspace without their American mentors. This is primarily due to air traffic and some language barriers, which will improve with time and training.

"It is great to be able to make this happen and we are thankful for all of the support we have received," said Captain Ayott. "The medics that we work with are great and we look forward to hopefully doing this on a weekly basis throughout the country."