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News | June 5, 2020

Joint medical team combines for critical transport, care for COVID-19 patients

United States Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs

In the midst of challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the United States and countries around the world, the Department of Defense has taken multiple measures to combat the spread of the new virus and ultimately protect their most valuable asset, American service members.


When U.S. service members recently tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, it prompted quick and professional patient care. With robust healthcare measures already in place by both U.S. military and host nation medical providers, the service members received the highest levels of care, ensuring their safety while protecting the health of other service members.


“As U.S. Air Force warrior medics, our primary mission is to deliver trusted care to all military members,” said the expeditionary medical group commander. “We already had a plan in place, and the actions we took to prepare several months ago put us in a great position to support our joint units in the region.”


With symptoms getting worse, the decision was made to have the service members evacuated from the AOR and transported to the largest military hospital outside the continental United States, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany.


“While waiting to board the C-17 transport, a service member required stabilization at our facility,” the expeditionary medical group commander said. “The ground surgical team was able to anticipate the critical care air transport teams' needs and that enabled a fluid patient hand-off to begin the successful travel to Landstuhl.”


The teamwork and coordination executed during this mission shows the tremendous ability of the joint team. The doctors on-site requesting the aeromedical evacuation, the expeditionary medical group team preparing for the transfer of patients to the aircraft, Air Mobility Command’s quick response to evacuate patients in need, the critical care air transport team’s ability to safely transport patients on ventilators during flight, and the Theater Patient Movement Request Center at LRMC all came together  – in under 36 hours – and were able to move COVID-19 patients out of the theater to the hospital to obtain the care they needed.


To ensure proper containment and reduce the risk of virus spread, the C-17 used a Transport Isolation System to safely transport the patients to LRMC. The TIS is an infectious disease containment unit that enables the transportation of COVID-19 patients without putting the aircrew or aircraft at risk of contamination.  More than 20 patients have been moved with the TIS globally since its first operational employment on April 10, 2020.


When medical units around U.S. Central Command first started to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Capt. S. David Shahbodaghi, a forward-deployed medical support physician, helped other U.S. military units around the region prepare.


The Medical Company Area Support unit was first deployed as part of a rapid response force in January to help deter Iranian aggression; however, at the end of February their mission changed to help prepare U.S. military units to battle the emerging pandemic. Having helped develop the U.S. military’s COVID-19 medical response system, Shahbodaghi was well prepared to help joint units in this situation and acted quickly to get these personnel to a higher level of medical care.


“This was a great display of inter-service medical operations; great teamwork,” Shahbodaghi said. “Working in the joint environment is fantastic. We each have a different piece of the puzzle and we fit together seamlessly. All barriers were put aside for the care of the patients.”


“During the early stages of the pandemic, we worked hard to implement necessary measures like social distancing and facility deep-cleaning, and those measures have really helped to keep COVID-19 from spreading to our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines,” said the air expeditionary wing commander. “This virus is an adversary, and we’re fighting it just like we would any other adversary… our approach is very deliberate, disciplined, and relentless.  Our actions have ensured our ability to continue our operational missions here as well as help others in need.”


Since March, military members here have been participating in the daily cleaning of public facilities and following the rules of social distancing to ensure the spread of the virus does not permeate the American camp.


“With the help of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, guided by our joint medical professionals, we are caring for our people while we deter malign actors in the region,” the expeditionary wing commander said.  “The current situation speaks volumes about the grit of the Joint Force and American service members – we take care of our own, and we don’t back down from a challenge.”