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C-130, KC-135 make CONUS aeromedical evacuation debut

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS)--- The C-130 Hercules and KC-135 Stratotanker made their debut as aeromedical evacuation aircraft for routine flights within the continental United States Aug. 7 when they transported 21 patients to California, Texas and Kentucky.

The two aircraft are expected to temporarily fill in for the soon-to-be retired C-9 Nightingale to support the Integrated CONUS Medical Operations Plan.

"Redistribution of patients from (Operation Iraqi Freedom) is still being maintained for ICMOP, because we still have about the same amount of patients coming out of the AOR (area of responsibility) we had at the peak of the war," said Maj. Darin Gunnink, 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron director of operations here.

The KC-135 on this first tanker AE mission belongs to the 126th Air Refueling Wing, Illinois Air National Guard, at Scott AFB. The mission originated at Andrews AFB, Md., transited Scott AFB, then terminated at Travis AFB, Calif. The C-130 and its crew, based out of the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif., is one of two C-130s expected to rotate nine to 10-day assignments to augment the 375th AES. The C-130 was responsible for the transportation of the patients to their home of record.

"It's all going to depend on Guard, Reserve and active duty C-130 units as they're available," Major Gunnink said.

Aeromedical evacuation professionals expressed enthusiasm about the historic missions, but at least one patient was skeptical at first.

Crews evacuated Sergeant Mendiola out of Iraq to undergo surgery. His homebound flight from Scott AFB to Fort Hood, Texas, was his first ride sitting in a seat instead of lying in a litter. He cringed at the thought of a delay.

Pleasantly surprised, Sergeant Mendiola waited less than an hour for his connecting flight. "So far this is the best-organized one I've been on," he said.

The missions worked smoothly, but extra preparations were needed to make the so. Although the C-130 is designed to support aeromedical evacuation, it needs to be configured to carry litters and loaded with medical equipment. Crews also used a patient loading system, a specially crafted metal ramp, to move people up to the KC-135's side entrance.

"Basically, this changes the way we've been doing business the last 25 years," said Capt. Jerry Brewer, a flight examiner with the 932nd Airlift Wing, a Reserve aeromedical evacuation unit at Scott. Captain Brewer has worked on the C-9 AE mission here since 1975 when he was an airman. "But we're still doing the same thing -- moving patients out and making sure they get the best quality care."

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