Texas and Chile, a partnership uniquely matched

Story by: Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert

Posted: April 26, 2016

Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert Critical Care Air Transport teams from the U.S. Air Force and Aerea Fuerza de Chile, load a mock patient onboard a C-130H2 aircraft belonging to the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during a medical air-evacuation exercise at Santiago, Chile, April 5, 2016. The one day exercise involved Texas and Oklahoma Air National Guardsman, Active duty USAF and Chilean air force medical teams as they collaborate and exchange techniques for domestic operations during natural disasters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert/released)
Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert
Critical Care Air Transport teams from the U.S. Air Force and Aerea Fuerza de Chile, load a mock patient onboard a C-130H2 aircraft belonging to the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during a medical air-evacuation exercise at Santiago, Chile, April 5, 2016. The one day exercise involved Texas and Oklahoma Air National Guardsman, Active duty USAF and Chilean air force medical teams as they collaborate and exchange techniques for domestic operations during natural disasters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert/released)

SANTIAGO, Chile—The morning after the ending of FIDAE 2016, the flight line at Fuerza Aerea De Chile in Santiago, emptied except for the lone C-130H2 Hercules aircraft from the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard; as it prepared for its second mission, a medical air-evacuation exercise with Chilean airmen, April 4, 2016.

The morning was cool and foggy, barely noticing the majestic Andes mountain range in the far off distance behind the rows of medical tents. Chilean medical teams scurried alongside doctors and nurses from the 136th Medical Group and 147th Medical Group, Critical Care Air transport Team (CCATT), Texas Air National Guard, preparing to receive patients at a moment’s notice. Texans and Chileans collaborated with each other, working side-by-side and learning from each other, a partnership equally matched.

“Texas is one of the best State partners,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kellie Williams, Chief Medical Operations and Plans Division, 12th Air Force, “because they are well equipped to respond to civilian domestic operations, same as Chile and uniquely matched to Texas with similar situations.”

In the distance, beyond the fog, one could hear the sounds of whirling blades approaching from the mock-crash site, bringing with it a helicopter full of mock casualties; a scene almost too familiar and reminiscent to the show ‘M.A.S.H.’ The moment the helicopter landed, corpsmen rushed to evacuate the helicopter and fill their gurneys with casualties. Seven patients were rushed into the medical tent for triage.

Doctors and nurses from both countries assessed the casualties and prepared them for an air-evacuation on board the C-130, where an aeromedical evacuation team from the 137th Medical Group, Oklahoma Air National Guard, waited for their embarkment. 

The most critical patients were passed on to the CCATT for stabilization prior to loading. The two countries worked seamlessly as if they had practiced together. This is the first time the Chilean medical team had worked side-by-side with the U.S. Airmen on a medical air-evacuation exercise in Chile. Language was only a slight barrier as medical terms were universally used.

The casualties were transported via litters onboard the C-130, which can carry up to 70 non-ambulatory patients, turning it into a high-capacity flying ambulance. 

Overall the exercise was a true success as each country took away valuable hands-on experiences from their time together. Future exercises are in the works to greater enhance the partnership between Texas and Chile.

“It was a wonderful experience being able to work with Chileans and exchange knowledge,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jong Lee, 147 MDG, CCAT physician and a burn specialist in his civilian job. “They were very knowledgeable and competent. They were also very hospitable.”