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Squadron tops in Air Force three years running

by Nick Stubbs Stephanie Witty
Thunderbolt staff writer

The dramatic pictures have been broadcast around the world as C-130s carrying wounded U.S. soldiers sat on far-away runways, some little more than dirt roads. The big bay doorway of the transport planes nothing but a dark passage for television viewers, who watch intently as personnel move in and out of that darkness.

Lt. Col. Chuck Tarr, doesn't have to see what's going on inside. He's been there, as have most of the other 200 members of the 622nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.

An Air Force Reserve squadron, the 622nd AES currently has members in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. It supported Operation Desert Storm and has been involved in about every conflict seen the past two decades, said Colonel Tarr, executive officer of the squadron, including service in Haiti, Kosovo and Bosnia.

The mission of the squadron is simple, he says, although there are many elements that combine to ensure that wounded and sick American and coalition forces are safely transported to medical care facilities.

Comprised of registered nurses and medical flight technicians, the 622nd provides the second level of care that occurs between field hospital units and base hospitals, either overseas or in the United States.

"Basically we ensure the wounded are moved to a higher level of medical care," said Colonel Tarr, who in addition to his other duties is a registered nurse.

The 622nd accomplishes its job with highly mobile teams trained to pull together on very short notice to transport stabilized patients, often from remote locations. With no planes of its own, the squadron operates from what are known are Mobile Air Staging Facilities, where team members wait for a plane "of opportunity." More often than not, that is a C-130, which may be flying in equipment or troops, but quickly can be set up on the stopover for the transport of patients.

"These planes could be flying in anything from macaroni to bullets but when they leave they could be carrying our teams and the sick or wounded," said Colonel Tarr.

If they are lucky, medical flight teams have time to outfit the planes with equipment and creature comforts while it still is on the ground. If they are not, it is set up quickly and efficiently while in flight.

"We have to ready for anything at anytime and they must be able to improvise," said Colonel Tarr. "That's where the training comes in; everyone knows exactly what to do and they can do it on the fly."

With the exception of planes, the 622nd essentially is self-contained. In addition to medical personnel, the squadron has its own mechanics and technicians, who can do everything from maintain its duce-and-half trucks and Humvees to repair generators, heating and field air conditioning units.

Administration support teams can set up shop about anywhere and handle the coordination of teams and flights and the other matters on the logistics side of the equation. Supply teams see to all the material needs from Band Aides to uniforms and the squad's bio-medical technicians check and maintain sensitive medical equipment in the field.

Colonel Tarr said the 622nd frequently coordinates and works closely with the 6th Air Mobility Wing. While it is not as common, at times KC-135 tankers have been pressed into service as air ambulances.

He said being a reserve squadron in which the personnel have been working together for many years has its advantages. The result is a highly tuned team, each member of which knows the job thoroughly, often after spending years at the same specialty. He said it is not unusual for reservists to have been with the squad for as long as 20 years. Recently retired commander Annie Anderson is an example, said Colonel Tarr. With the 622nd AES for 19 years, she took over command eight years ago.

Col. Thomas Morrill took the reins from Anderson. The 622nd has 19 full-time officers and enlisted at its headquarters at MacDill. In addition to an administration building, the squadron has four warehouses and all its vehicles are stored on the base compound.

The last three years the squadron has been awarded top Air Force Reserve Aeormedical Evacuation Squadron with a C-130 mission, an accomplishment looked on with great pride by everyone in the squad, said Colonel Tarr. The squadron started as the 37th Air Evacuation Group in 1969 at MacDill. After Desert Storm, it briefly became the 610th and in April of 1995 was designated the 622nd.

Its roll has evolved over the years and in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 it has been expanded to include domestic medical support in the event of an emergency on U.S. soil, serving in such a case much like the National Guard, said Colonel Tarr.

Training is ongoing and nearly every weekend training flights are conducted. Teams always are ready to respond to the call and every training mission instantly can be converted to a live mission on the fly, he said. "Readiness and responsiveness," is a trademark of the squadron, said Colonel Tarr.


 

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