WASHINGTON, DC—The Air National Guard is lending its expertise when it comes to transporting severely injured servicemembers in the aeromedical evacuation system.
Last month, the Air National Guard added the Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) mission to its responsibilities and was expecting to begin flying CCATT missions from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
A CCATT operates an in-flight intensive care unit in the aircraft cabin. The concept for the CCATT was introduced by the Air Force surgeon general about 10 years ago as a way to transport the most critically injured patients in the aeromedical evacuation system. CCATT teams have been providing care for severely injured servicemembers who are being evacuated from theater to fully equipped intensive care units.
The Air National Guard’s CCATT missions will add needed relief to the active duty Air Force. “As the war has gotten longer, the active duty crews have gotten stretched thinner and thinner,” said Air National Guard Air Surgeon Col Brett Wyrick of the Guard’s involvement in the mission. “Fortunately, we have a lot of capability in the Air National Guard to step up and take some of the slack for the warfighters.”
Returning to the Mission
While the Air National Guard was at one time involved in the CCATT mission, Wyrick said that the Guard “migrated away from the mission” as it was not apparent that the CCATT could play an integral role in homeland defense, an area of importance to the Guard.
In addition to helping transport servicemembers, another benefit of CCATT capability is that it would aid the Guard in its domestic response to natural disasters or emergencies. “This will give the Air National Guard the capability for domestic response,” Wyrick said. “In the event of a big hurricane coming to the Gulf Coast, [when] you have to evacuate Gulf Coast hospitals, CCATT teams in their Air National Guard domestic response capability provides the ability to evacuate those hospitals and get them into the national disaster medical system.”
The CCATT teams are three member teams consisting of a critical care nurse, respiratory technician, and a critical care physician specializing in an area such as critical care, pulmonology, anesthesiology, or surgery. Typically, each team can handle four patients at one time.
These teams might transport patients from Landstuhl back to the US, or if needed, they would deploy into Iraq or Afghanistan or even into the African continent. These critical care patients are ones that would ordinarily not be candidates for the aeromedical evacuation system because of their extensive injuries.
Several of the teams have already begun training and the Guard is expecting to reach full operational capability for 18 teams within the next two years.
Wyrick sees the experience that Guard and Reserve doctors bring to the CCATTs as an asset to the mission. Many of civilian doctors who join the Guard have worked in inner cities and trauma centers where they are seasoned in caring for patients with penetrating trauma and burn injuries.
The opportunity to fly with these teams is also seen as a great recruitment tool because it is a unique experience that civilian doctors would not get elsewhere.