Tanker Crews, Medics Adjust To New Environments
More than 50 years after it entered the Air Force, aircrews are
still finding ways to increase the capabilities of the KC-135
Stratotanker. Ten reservists from the 939th Air Refueling Wing
based in Portland, OR and four the 349th Aeromedical Evacuation
Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, CA, demonstrated the airplane
has valuable medical-evacuation capabilities, in addition to its
The combined team recently practiced transporting patients with
battlefield injuries during a three-day mission to Marine Corps
Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay. The base is home to the 3rd Marine
The medevac mission is just a few years old for the tanker. The
Hawaiian trip demonstrated the aircraft’s flexibility to do
air refueling, cargo airlift, medevac and move passengers.
The mission allowed wing Airmen to accomplish upgrade training
for their aircrew positions. The squadron’s medical
technicians were able to meet a requirement to train in
transporting patients in the tanker.
"Aeromedical crews are required to maintain on a variety of
airplanes, and the KC-135 is one of the aeromedical evacuation air
platforms," said Maj. Doug Miller, 64th Air Refueling Squadron
chief of mission development. "We provide the aircraft for these
aeromedical evacuation missions primarily from Travis and McChord
Air Force Base, Wash. because of their close proximity to
The Air Force Reserve Command units often try to maximize the
taxpayer’s dollar by scheduling missions and training that
can be done simultaneously.
"This was a short-notice mission," said Maj. Doug Miller, the
64th Air Refueling Squadron chief of mission development at
Portland. "I called up the 349th and asked if they could support a
training mission going to Hawaii on a weekend so we could meet our
overseas mission training requirements."
The 349th had reservists
who needed the medevac training, too. So it was a mission that made
sense for both organizations.
"The aeromedical crews are really good about working with us.
For them it’s more important to get the training on the
specific aircraft, so they are flexible on where we go," Major
And the major said, "When it comes down to it, the aeromedical
mission is also a good match for (KC-135) training because the same
reservists train together who will accomplish the real mission
The tanker’s boom operators accomplished their
overseas-flying upgrade training, and got exposure to the
aeromedical team and real passenger handling -- which requires
additional safety precautions.
Two of Portland’s reservists had only practiced those
skills in theory before the mission.
"We have to account for the extra people [passengers] and
patients," said Master Sgt. Bruce Clemmer, the refueling
squadron’s NCO in officer in charge of mission planning.
"It’s a huge consideration because now we have a group of
people with limited physical capability to egress [get out] of the
plane. We figure out how to evacuate passengers and patients as a
part of the preflight planning."
The sergeant said, "Just think about it: What if you had someone
in a litter who was unconscious and in critical condition. Before
the flight, we go through a specific preflight briefing with the
medical crew and plan how we are going to evacuate the patients in
For the boom operators, in particular, there is a big difference
between refueling missions and a medevac for boom operators. On a
refueling flight, they are only concerned with a crew of three or
four and the actual refueling process, Sergeant Clemmer said.
"When you go on a medical mission, there is a medical crew in
back to make sure their requirements are met as well as patients
and passengers to make sure their needs are met."
The goal of aeromedical evacuation is airlifting patients
anywhere at anytime. Even though the medevac crews are medics, they
live in two different worlds.
"We live in the flying
world and the medical world," 349th flight nurse Capt. Robert
Underwood said. "We take care of patients while they are on the
ground and in the air. As aircrew members, we have the same
qualifications as the front-end crew. We need to know the airplane,
the emergency procedures and safety features to protect ourselves
and our patients.
"But then we have to have our medical knowledge of pathology and
physiology to be able to take care of the patient on the ground and
in the air. When we go to altitude, the body’s physiology
changes. We have to train to know this as second nature, so we are
able to keep our patients safe and alive."
The tanker does not have many resources, the captain said. Plus,
it’s noisy, dark, experiences vibrations, is often either too
cold or too hot, and runs into turbulence.
"You don’t have the same tools in the air as you do on the
ground to assess your patient’s condition," Captain Underwood
said. "Preflight planning is absolutely critical because once you
get on that airplane, you don’t have anybody or anything
except for the resources you have on that airplane to take care of
The captain said it is important to plan for every possible
contingency and emergency that will allow medics to handle any kind
of situation that might occur in flight.
"The 939th was outstanding," Captain Underwood said. "Having a
good working relationship with the front-end crew is absolutely
critical to our mission’s success."
(Aero-News salutes Master Sgt. Ruby Zarzyczny, 939th Air
Refueling Wing Public Affairs)