Service branches unite for large-scale training


Over the course of five days, more than 200 military and civilian personnel met for a first-of-its-kind medical training event on base beginning Thursday, June 1, 2017. Bringing together members of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, and the U.S. Navy, the training not only fulfilled annual training requirements but gave individuals hands-on experience with civilians in mock-deployment situations.


“The Aeromedical Staging Squadron (ASTS) is in a unique position in that our wartime mission is different from our peacetime mission,” said Capt. John A. Copas, Officer in Charge of the En Route Patient Staging Squadron (ERPSS) and clinic nurse with the ASTS. “While both are equally important, our peacetime mission primarily focuses on keeping the base flight ready. In order to do that you need healthy warriors that are ready to walk out the door and go fight.”


However, when the mission changes from a peacetime to a wartime operation, the roles of medical personnel change dramatically. ASTS members transition from keeping the base membership “flight ready” to positions of intense patient care.


“When we turn over to our wartime mission our role changes dramatically,” said Copas. “We end up running an ERPSS anywhere from a 10 or 50 person up to a hundred or two hundred patients, depending on how big our facility is.”


The ERPSS mission requires medical personnel to be able to provide patient care and safely move patients to and from many types of vehicles, in both secure and austere environments. Vehicles range from helicopters to humvees, a pickup truck or a car, or any vehicle of opportunity.


“With the goal of getting them to a safer place,” said Copas, “sometimes that mission requires us to call for air evacuation. In that case we would take our patients to a C-130 or another fixed-wing aircraft to get them to a more safe or a more functioning hospital with other resources.”


That was the primary focus of training when members of the C/1-171st (AA) NYARNG in Rochester, N.Y. flew to Niagara Falls to share flightline space with a C-130 Hercules. Here, military members interacted with Boy Scouts from Troop 855 from Lewiston, N.Y. and a dozen Development and Training Flight trainees who acted as live patients to be loaded onto the aircraft.


“There’s a big difference in moving a real person compared to moving a mannequin,” said Tech. Sgt. Marianela M. Contreras, flight leader and Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge of the training mission. “There’s a big difference in the way you lift a patient, the time it takes, and the caution we have to take in order to make sure they are properly protected.”


In order to safely transport the patients, members of the ASTS used buses that were on loan from the Veterans Association of Western New York. These are specialized vehicles that can be configured to safely load and transport patients, equipment, and their personal belongings.


Contreras said that they would not have been able to perform these duties if it had not been for the generosity and support of the VA and the use of their vehicles. She is hopeful that this is the beginning of what is to be a long-term relationship with the VA.


Throughout the long weekend, members of the ASTS and other participating agencies either met or went beyond annual training requirements, said Copas. More than 140 people were trained in CPR. Air Force members were trained and licensed to drive Army humvees. Medical technicians completed all Readiness Skill Verification tasks including suturing and IV insertion. A U.S. Navy orthopedic physician taught splinting and casting. Military and civilian members alike were able to gain countless hours of invaluable hand-on training.


“For the corpsmen it's an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Jamie-Lynn Winkler, Lt. Naval Operational Hospital Support Unit with the Naval Operational Support Command (NOSC) in Buffalo. “It’s an opportunity that they may never get again.”


Winkler, a former medical technician with the 914th ASTS reached out to Copas and asked if there were any opportunities for joint training. This happened to coincide with the training that Copas and Contreras were in the midst of planning.


“It was like coming back home,” said Winkler. “We all worked together and integrated right in. It didn’t matter what uniform you had on the mission was the same.”


Copas and Contreras said that they are already in the very early planning stages for a similar training event next year. Ultimately they would like to see the event grow to something similar to a Patriot Warrior training event with many more agencies and players involved.


“We have all of the resources within 100 miles of us here in Western New York,” said Copas. “My goal would be, one day, to see that happening here, to use our resources, our personnel and invite people from all over the east coast to come here, to participate in something that we host.”


Contreras said that in addition to completing the medical training, the event was also an important morale booster. It was a chance for Airmen to interact with one another in ways that they wouldn’t typically.


“You know the people in your office,” said Copas. “Even though they're in your unit you sometimes don’t know much about them. This gave everyone the opportunity to stand on one piece of pavement and work together to complete a common goal.”