JBPHH supports first Indo-Pacific aeromedical evacuation mission for COVID-19

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Amber Kelly-Herard
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs

When an active-duty service member tested positive for the coronavirus, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam stood ready to ensure the patient reached Travis Air Force Base safely. 

This was the first time the Transport Isolation System was employed during an aeromedical evacuation mission in support of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility.

The 515th Air Mobility Operation Wing played a pivotal role in this mission that required two trans-Pacific flights.

“The 515th AMOW’s support to the first TIS deployment within the U.S. INDOPACOM area of responsibility included flightline and maintenance operations to ensure the aircraft, patient, and crews landed and departed safely while minimizing ground time,” said Col. Jason Terry, 515th AMOW commander. “In situations like these, Mobility Airmen persistently forward deployed to these strategic en-route locations at a high readiness level with the right expertise and equipment was critical to ensuring the global reach needed to get the patient in the hands of higher-level care as quickly as possible.”

Thursday morning, Staff Sgt. Sarah Myers, 735th Air Mobility Squadron command and control operations controller, was informed an incoming aircraft experienced an engine issue after taking off.

Myers quickly assembled a team of experts for this no-fail mission.

Staff Sgt. Scott Coen, 735th AMS Maintenance Operations Control Center controller coordinated the aircraft parking and maintenance requirements. Then the ground support team, led by Master Sgt. Justin Stanford, 735th AMS Aircraft Maintenance unit lead production superintendent, and Shawn Murdoch, Air Transport Operations Center duty officer, quickly assessed the engine and other vital mission requirements.

Myers coordinated with the 647th Security Forces Squadron and 15th Medical Group Public Health. She also secured a back-up aircraft to guarantee the mission never missed a beat. These combined efforts resulted in the C-17 aircraft returning to a fully mission capable status.

Lt. Col. Penny Cunningham, Pacific Air Forces Command flight nurse, also noted the quick coordination that took place to execute the mission.

“This mission was a great display of how aeromedical evacuation operates, from our logistics team procuring personnel protective equipment kits for pilots and other personnel to ensuring crew bed-down and transportation was firmly established,” she said. “No matter what AOR we are in, we always have AE members that will support and ensure the mission and crew are taken care of.”

The patient made it safely to the David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis AFB. Travis is one of three staging areas for the U.S. Air Force’s specialized aeromedical evacuation missions relating to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.

Currently, only the C-130H Hercules, the C-130J Super Hercules and the C-17 aircraft are able to carry the TIS capsules. This makes Travis AFB, with its fleet of 13 C-17s and location on the West Coast, a crucial player in the Air Force’s efforts to repatriate service members and civilians who remain in foreign countries due to COVID-19.

This mission, call sign Reach 444, was comprised of a full TIS force package, which includes one C-17 and aircrew carrying two TIS modules and medical support personnel, consisting of AE specialists, Critical Care Air Transport Team members, infectious diseases doctors and technicians, and TIS operators. It is the 18th employment of the TIS since its first operational use for COVID-19 on April 10, 2020.

The TIS is a biocontainment unit designed to minimize risk to aircrew, medical attendants, and the airframe, while allowing medical care to be provided to patients in-flight. It was originally developed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

This multi-unit effort was part of Pacific Air Forces, Air Mobility Command and the Air Force’s continued response to the coronavirus outbreak.

2nd Lt. Michael Longoria contributed to this article.