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Air Force Surgeon General’s annual workshop focuses on accelerating military medicine

The Air Force Surgeon General’s annual Senior Leadership Workshop met for the second day on December 8, with more than 500 Air Force Medical Service leaders attending virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The all-virtual platform, a first for the Air Force Medical Service, included various topics surrounding acceleration, innovation, and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Part two of a three-part series covering the Air Force Surgeon General’s annual three-day Senior Leadership Workshop.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Air Force Medical Service leaders met virtually for the second day of the Air Force Surgeon General’s Senior Leadership Workshop on December 8.

The day’s theme centered on acceleration, inspired by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Jr.’s Strategic Approach document called “Accelerate, Change or Lose.” Senior leaders focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the AFMS to elevate innovative solutions, ensuring the Air Force’s operational and patient-care missions continued uninterrupted.

Lt. Col. Elizabeth Schnaubelt, the Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills-Omaha medical director, said her Airmen were some of the first medics in the Department of Defense to see COVID-19 patients and played an integral role in the Air Force’s response. C-STARS Omaha was activated in 2018 to prepare medical Airmen to respond to infectious disease threats.

“We were truly within the heartbeat of this novel infectious disease response,” said Schnaubelt. “In February, [University of Nebraska Medical Center] received [Americans] repatriated from Wuhan, China. We also cared for individuals evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were placed in our quarantine unit or in [UNMC’s] biocontainment unit.”

Schnaubelt and her team trained Airmen to use the Transport Isolation System, a capability designed to transport patients with infectious diseases on military aircraft. The TIS was developed in 2014 in response to the Ebola outbreak.

Her team also prepared Airmen to move patients via the Negatively Pressurized Conex, a newly created infectious disease patient transport capability providing increased patient capacity on aircraft with improved safety measures to better protect aircrews.

“In less than 30 days, the NPC went from an idea on a napkin to a proven concept… and only 88 days from that idea to the delivery of an operational system,” said Lt. Col Paul Hendrickson, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense material leader.

“We struck a balance between treating and safely moving patients,” said Col. John Andrus, Command Surgeon, U.S. Transportation Command. “We didn’t want to disrupt the system by introducing a contagion that could infect aircrews.”

To date, the Air Force has successfully completed 65 COVID-19 aeromedical evacuation missions.

Continuing with the day’s theme, Brig. Gen. Sharon Bannister, Command Surgeon, Air Combat Command, discussed the importance of accelerating for changes emerging in the Arctic. Bannister introduced the AFMS’s Cold Region Expeditionary Medical Operations initiative, explaining Air Force medics must remain responsive to this challenging operational environment.

"This [Arctic] region is a domain of increasing significance for our military, and where our fighting forces go, our medics must follow,” said Bannister. “If we fail to adapt, we risk losing the high-end fight and our ability to secure the future in the Arctic.”

Col. Alfred Flowers, Command Surgeon, U.S. Space Force, presented on the standup of the new Service, explaining the importance of protecting the nation’s interest in space and the associated medical support this requires. Flowers discussed both current and future needs of space operators, and the need to reconstruct and redefine medical standards to support the Space Force.

“Things are moving so quickly in the U.S. Space Force. We are writing history and binding the book at the same time,” said Flowers. “We need to continue looking at how we're going to organize, train, and equip these forces to sustain [space] operations now and into the future.”

The second day of the workshop closed with Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, Air Force Surgeon General, emphasizing the importance of accelerating medical capabilities to meet current and future readiness requirements.

“Military medicine is part of all Air Force operations. You have medical when you’re talking about space, you have medical when you’re talking about the Arctic, you have medical when you’re talking about research and development,” said Hogg. “Our [combatant commanders] know how we support their missions and how medical can make or break those missions.”

(Ms. Lindsay Mahon contributed to this article)

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