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Team Travis conducts first Indo-Pacific aeromedical evacuation mission for COVID-19

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. R. Michael Longoria
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
U.S. Air Force Airmen from at Travis Air Force Base, California, transported one COVID-19 positive patient to the U.S. from the Indo-Pacific region July 17, 2020.

An active duty service member, who tested positive for the coronavirus, was transported from the Indo-Pacific region to America’s West Coast for treatment at David Grant USAF Medical Center on Travis AFB. The successful aeromedical airlift support was conducted by the 775th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight via C-17 Globemaster III aircraft from the 21st Airlift Squadron here.

This aeromedical evacuation mission marks the first operational employment of the Transport Isolation System, or TIS, in support of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility. It is the 18th employment of the TIS since its first operational use for COVID-19 on April 10, 2020.

“Our Airmen helped bring a U.S. service member home today to get the medical care they need to fight and recover from COVID-19,” said Col. Corey Simmons, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander. “I could not be prouder of the mobility Airmen who executed this historic, and life-saving, aeromedical evacuation mission out of Travis AFB.”

Travis AFB is one of three staging areas for the U.S. Air Force’s specialized aeromedical evacuation missions relating to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.

“When we say rapid global mobility…this is how we project American airpower,” said Simmons. “Team Travis’ capabilities and the seamless partnership with multiple organizations across the Air Force enabled us to promptly help those in need throughout the Indo-Pacific region during this challenging, global pandemic.”

Currently, only the C-130H Hercules, the C-130J Super Hercules and the C-17 aircraft are able to carry the TIS capsules, making Travis AFB, with its fleet of 13 C-17s and location on the West Coast, a crucial player in the Air Force’s efforts to repatriate service members and civilians who remain in foreign countries as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

This mission, call sign Reach 444, was comprised of a full TIS force package, which includes one C-17 and aircrew carrying two TIS modules and medical support personnel, consisting of AE specialists, Critical Care Air Transport Team members, infectious diseases doctors and technicians, and TIS operators.

The TIS is a biocontainment unit designed to minimize risk to aircrew, medical attendants, and the airframe, while allowing medical care to be provided to patients in-flight. It was originally developed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Additionally, the execution of this mission, which required two trans-Pacific flights, would not have been possible without the effort of the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The Airmen of the 735th Air Mobility Squadron are always responsible for coordinating a multitude of items in preparation for aircraft arrival at an en route location including directing teams for ground items and maintenance, managing parking with Maintenance Operations Control Center, communicating with higher headquarters on any critical matters and alerting the next aircrew that their aircraft is ready for launch.

This mission was no exception. Knowing the stakes were high, Staff Sgt. Sarah Myers, a 735th AMS Command and Control Operations Controller, with support from her team, the 647th Security Forces and 15th Medical Group Public Health, received and even had a back-up aircraft prepared to ensure the mission never missed a beat.

“The 515th AMOW’s support to the first TIS deployment within the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility included flight line and maintenance operations to ensure the aircraft, patient and crews landed and departed safely while minimizing ground time,” according to Col. Jason Terry, 515th AMOW commander. “In situations like these, Mobility Airmen persistently forward deployed to these strategic en route locations at a high readiness level with the right expertise and equipment was critical to ensuring the global reach needed to get the patient in the hands of higher level care as quick as possible.”

Lt. Col. Penny Cunningham, Pacific Air Forces Command flight nurse, also noted the quick coordination that took place to execute the mission.

“This mission was a great display of how aeromedical evacuation operates, from our logistics team procuring personnel protective equipment kits for pilots and other personnel to ensuring crew bed-down and transportation was firmly established,” she said. “No matter what AOR we are in, we always have AE members that will support and ensure the mission and crew are taken care of.”

This multi-unit effort was part of Air Mobility Command and the Air Force’s continued response to the coronavirus outbreak.