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“School of Air Evacuation” celebrates 75th anniversary

  • Published
  • By Kim Bowden
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
The School of Air Evacuation marked its 75th anniversary Aug. 2 and 3 at the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing.

The two-day event -- part of USAFSAM’s larger centennial celebration -- honored the past, present, and future of aeromedical evacuation, and included guest speakers, an air ambulance dedication, a reunion dinner, a memorial wreath presentation, tours and poster sessions, and a graduation ceremony.

Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, kicked off the event by thanking the audience for the opportunity to celebrate a remarkable milestone of what she calls “disruptive innovation.”

“Through your disruptive innovation, all of you flight medics -- nurses, surgeons, and technicians -- have made aeromedical evacuation what it is today,” said Hogg. “The en route care paradigm has evolved dramatically since 1943. We used to bring a doctor by air to a patient and then move them both via ground transportation. Then we transported patients by air -- if they were stable -- to a point of care. Now we essentially have hospitals in the back of airplanes. Aeromedical evacuation and critical care air transport teams are constantly redefining ‘care in the air’ and saving lives in the process.”

Other speakers throughout the day represented different aspects of aeromedical evacuation, including flight nurses, a patient, a technician, an on-scene medical commander, and a member of a critical care air transport team. Though the experiences they shared were unique, the speakers all had common messages about commitment, compassion, readiness, and appreciation.

One of the speakers, Harriett Neill, was a flight nurse who completed her training at USAFSAM in 1974, who later served in Vietnam for Operation Babylift. During an evacuation flight on April 5, 1975, the cargo door of her C-5 malfunctioned, forcing a crash landing. Despite sustaining their own injuries, Neill and the rest of the crew stayed dedicated to saving every child that survived the crash.

“Your training kicks in,” Neill said. “We were ordinary people who, when faced with extraordinary circumstances, were able to continue our professional and humanitarian mission thanks to the remarkable training we received at USAFSAM. Part of that training is also a promise to our patients. Indeed, when we saw our own evacuation crew show up following the crash, I learned first-hand the relief and appreciation our patients feel when they see us.”

Day two of the anniversary event included a wreath laying ceremony in remembrance of the flight nurses and technicians who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Following the wreath laying, the event ended with a look to the future. The latest class of nurses and technicians graduated from their Aeromedical Evacuation Initial Qualification Course, taking the flight nurses’ creed to fly into harm’s way to pick up wounded warriors and bring them home to their families. The graduation harkened back to Hogg’s comments the day prior.

“What now?” Hogg asked. “Do we stand on our past accomplishments and say, ‘This is good enough’? Do we pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Good job’? No. Today is the day we say ‘What if...?’ and define the future of aeromedical evacuation.

“Congratulations on 75 years of disruptive innovation. I look forward to 75 more.”

To mark a century of operation, USAFSAM will celebrate throughout 2018. The year will include special heritage events as well as a monthly article highlighting a key “exemplar” from the School’s rich history.