903rd AEF to hold 50th anniversary

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WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- Original members of the 903rd Aeromedical Evacuation Flight will gather at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in May, 2017, to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Established in February, 1967, the 903rd AEF was the first Air Force tactical aeromedical unit used in a combat area.

Initially operating out of the 21st Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Pope AFB, North Carolina, and the 22nd AES at Seward AFB, Tennesse, personnel and equipment from the two squadrons were combined to deploy to Phu Cat Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, in March, 1967.

The 903rd AEF’s role was to assist the Army and Marines by administering medical care and evacuating casualties to in-country surgical hospitals and naval hospital ships. C-130 Hercules, C-7A Caribou, C-123 Providers and various helicopters were utilized for the evacuations.

This first-of-its kind unit was comprised of a 12-person emergency medical care team that included a medical service corps officer, an NCO in charge, eight aeromedical evacuation technicians, a radio operator and an administrative specialist.

“A battle casualty would be airlifted from the point of injury by helicopter and brought to a forward combat medical facility for emergency treatment of battle injuries. The more serious injured patients would be stabilized and brought to us for evacuation by fixed wing aircraft,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Charles Fox, an original team member and reunion organizer.

Fox served on the team as an aeromedical evacuation technician and is also the father of Col. Shari Silverman, the 88th Medical Group commander.

"It is important to note that this schedule of operations could change anytime based on the numbers and conditions of patients,” Fox said. “At Khe Sanh, during the 1968 Tet Offensive, some casualties were brought directly from the field to our casualty staging facilities for evacuation."

Staged at various combat bases with airstrips located in Vietnam where heavy casualties were anticipated, these teams mobilized and operated out of self-contained medical care units called casualty staging facilities.

The unit provided care for combat casualties awaiting airlift and in-flight care during the evacuation flight. However, the technicians were limited to the type of care they could provide.

“Sadly, very minimum equipment (an Ambu bag for resuscitation, Ambu foot suction) and assorted medical bandages and supplies were provided,” Fox said.

Since the casualty staging facility’s inception, medical advances have vastly improved, allowing staging facilities to provide much more medical care to the injured. Today, casualty staging facilities are now called en route patient staging system.

In today’s aeromedical staging facilities like the one located here at the 445th Airlift Wing, the same medical care and procedures that are available in emergency rooms can be provided to the injured. Specialized equipment, surgical and intensive care units are all now included in the ERPSS.
During the conflict, the 903rd AEF was responsible for assisting with initial care and providing in-flight medical care to thousands of wounded service members. The unit was awarded the Air Force Presidential Citation, the Marine Corps Presidential Citation, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Citation for their efforts in supporting the mission.

Fox, along with retired Lt. Col. Jim Fincher, retired Maj. Jay McCausland, retired Senior Master Sgt. Ken Harris, retired Tech. Sgt. Vic Salyer, and Airmen Virgil Downing, Larry DuPree, Dan Hendrix, and Rob Pearce, are some of the original team members who will be attending the reunion.

As part of the schedule of events during the reunion, on May 20, 2017, the alumni will visit the U.S. Air Force Medical School of Aerospace Medicine where they will be shown the advancements in aeromedical evacuation.

Senior Master Sgt. Lisa Harelson, the 375th Operations Group, Detachment 4, Aeromedical Evacuation Formal Training Unit superintendent, said she is honored to have the opportunity to meet her aeromedical evacuation brothers and sisters from the Vietnam era.

“Not all nurses and medics experience caring for combat wounded straight from the battlefield; this is a bond we share,” Harelson said. “The medical professionals in aeromedical evacuation are continuously striving to provide better, faster care for our wounded and this would not be possible without the consultation provided by the 903rd Aeromedical Evacuation Flight. We would not be where we are today without them.”
 
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