By Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel, 407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
/ Published May 19, 2017
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- In a new chapter in the storied Red Tails legacy, the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group is slated to close the last active Expeditionary Medical Support System tent in the Air Force Central Command region.
Medical group personnel will move into a new, permanent clinic facility in June, improving both patient care and comfort, said Col. Michelle Pufall, the commander of the 332nd EMDG.
The unit established its current tent-based presence in 2014, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. After more than three years of supporting the mission of the 407th Air Expeditionary Group and co-located joint and coalition partners, the medical group’s tasks have outgrown operations and required a substantial update.
“In the fight against Daesh (ISIS), the 407th AEG became another strategic location and required additional Air Force population and health services support, which required us to bring a team to medically prepare and protect Airmen,” Pufall said. “Out of five expeditionary medical groups, this is the last expeditionary medical support system standing and we are ready to transition to the next phase.”
The EMEDS system currently housing the local clinic comprises different components, which allows the package to be scaled according to size of base and (local) requirements. The larger the medical role in a region, the more segments can be added like building blocks. These individual sections are shipped in highly mobile and tightly packed delivery crates that can be transported via small Air Force cargo aircraft to the most remote areas in the world.
“We can pick up and go and set up in any type of environment to provide medical care to the base population at risk,” said Chief Master Sgt. Karla Jeremiah-Griffith, the 332nd EMDG superintendent. “It affords a flexibility and agility to the warfighter that makes it special tool for the Air Force.”
The team at 332nd EMDG has until now operated with the basic facilities of a “Role 1” clinic, which can support up to 3,000 personnel in a forward deployed area with basic support services and emergency response. The same configuration will fit seamlessly into the new facility, and will take on additional U.S. Navy staff, Jeremiah-Griffith said.
While the EMEDS system allows for expedient servicing of deployed personnel in field conditions, time wears on the equipment and triple-digit summer temperatures put severe stress on patients and while putting pharmacy supplies and equipment at risk.
“There are certain challenges in the deployed environment,” Pufall said. “Some of the things we’re concerned with is patient privacy, temperature and infection control. In this location, it is very dusty and it takes a team effort to ensure we have the best facility possible. But if you stay out here for a length of time, the tent material continues to break down, so we needed to plan what the next evolution was going to be.”
In the new facility, Air Force medical staff will work hand in hand with their Navy counterparts According to Pufall, this will allow corpsmen, medics and providers to serve the deployed joint force more efficiently in an integrated environment, which will make treatment seamless for deployers, no matter the uniform they wear.
“We put our heads together and came up with good ideas that will allow us to share resources,” she said. “While we have trained together and have integrated over the last year, the new facility will be jointly staffed, and that is making the best use of the resources between the providers, technicians, corpsmen and ancillary support staff.”
But the new facility is not just about comfort and cooperation, but will provide definitive improvements in patient safety, privacy and treatment efficiency such a dedicated trauma bay, where critical patients can be stabilized. The changes will allow providers to offer the quality care service members have come to expect at home.
“The environment they will be in will be similar to home station,” Jeremiah-Griffith said. “The teams will have proper offices and exam rooms. It’s much more of a standard set up to what they are used to. And from the patient perspective as well, when they walk into the door, it’s going to me more of a familiar clinic setting.”
Gold standard for medical deployments
The EMEDS, however, is by nature not a compromise, but the first launchpad solution for movements of the Air Force Medical Service. Before deployments, members of the Air Force medical fields travel to Camp Bullis, Texas, where they learn to set up the and work in the EMEDS tent where no medical capability existed before.
“This is the platform in how we deploy,” Pufall said. “If there is a new requirement, this is how the Air Force presents (medical support) forces. Here patients can be treated for any emergency, from wound care to respiratory or cardiac arrest.”
Medics across the Air Force are intimately familiar with the system through recurring training and learn to set up the tents, hook up air conditioning, lights and electrical supply and how all the mobile hospital equipment and the section teams work. During a deployment, the limited space of the tent system facilitates not only patient treatment, but also forces to medical teams to work closely with each other, on and off duty.
“We have a great team here at the 332nd,” Jeremiah-Griffith said. “I can’t express or explain the team here, you have to kind of experience it. As you walk through here, you can see how they collaborate, communicate and integrate well to provide valuable service to the patients on a daily basis.”
This dynamic facilitates team building and has created tight-knit community among the medical staff, Pufall said, making the tent a home away from home.
”The tent brings a lot of camaraderie,” Pufall said. “It is the hub of the deployment. It’s a sad day when we take this platform down and move into a building. But it also is a good day in knowing we are creating an enduring mission where patients can be served in a good facility and in a joint environment.”
The Red Tails medical legacy continues
Part of the teams strength, both Pufall and Jeremiah-Griffith said, is the strong sense of purpose underlying the work of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. The unit traces its legacy back to the original Red Tails of the Tuskegee Airmen and their support staff of aircraft maintainers, logisticians, planners and nurses.
A book telling the unit’s history sits on a side table in the administrative section of the tent and is shared with each new arrival, Pufall said. In the new building, the book will likewise find a new spot on shelves to remind the team of who came before them.
“We live on the legacy of the Red Tail medics,” Pufall said. “To think of World War II Red Tail medics and their environment, which looked a lot like ours here; being part of a team like that is an honor.
“Reactivating for OIR, we are continuing on that proud legacy of excellence,” she continued. “Standing this unit back up, and integrating it into the next level, is a new chapter of that story.”