By Ann Skarban
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Two Air Force Reserve aeromedical professionals from the 302nd Airlift Wing’s 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron traveled more than 7,000 miles to share their techniques and practices with Cameroon and neighboring Central African military partners.
Maj. Jen Dalstra, flight nurse, and Chief Master Sgt. Debbie Buchanan, aeromedical evacuation technician, were two of the eight U.S. Air Force aeromedical crew members who were selected from 90 applicants to participate in Central Accord 13, a 10-day training exercise in Douala, Cameroon that U.S., Cameroonian, Barunde, Gabonese Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and Sao Tome e Principe militaries participated in Feb. 27 through March 1.
The two said they were selected because of their deployment experience, ability to teach and their aeromedical instructor and evaluator qualifications.
“It was as though we were trying to take our years of training for U.S. Air Force AE and trying to train them in two weeks,” said Dalstra. It usually takes one to two years to train a U.S. Air Force AE crewmember, and they were tasked with condensing much of that training into two weeks.
The two spoke of how they reviewed and prepared training materials weeks in advance of their mission in Africa.
“When we arrived, it became clear we would need to modify our training. The equipment in use and culture were so different,” said Buchanan.
“We shared the configuration set up of the aircraft, patient care and nursing considerations at high altitudes. We were also able to explain how the lack of oxygen can affect organ systems, taught our loading and off loading methods, safety procedures as well as AE communication policies and procedures,” said Dalstra, explaining the 16 medical and operations classes and 40 classroom hours of AE topics taught.
Central Accord 13 began with three days of classroom training, followed by two days of training on the aircraft with equipment. It then culminated with several days of exercises and a closing ceremony which was attended by several national dignitaries including the Minister of Defense for Cameroon.
“We were all educators and we adapted our Air Force training. We were teaching doctors, nurses, fire fighters and entire rescue teams — the whole chain of control from the field to the hospital,” said Dalstra. “They never did AE before, they were where we were years ago,” she added.
“I think we offered a big change in thought when we introduced ‘caring-in-route,’” said Buchanan. The current method of treatment for these impoverished countries includes delayed treatment. “They will just load and go,” said Buchanan describing how critically injured patients were tucked into trucks and transported to a medical facility. “Treatment [in Africa] is not provided until the patient gets to the hospital,” she explained.
Along with today’s U.S. Air Force aeromedical procedures, which include immediate treatment and care during transport, the Joint Theater Trauma Center survival rate is greater than 90 percent for military patients including those evacuated by U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation professionals.
“We taught them how to configure a C-130 using their equipment,” said Dalstra. “It was clear they fully realized the opportunity to learn new techniques that would help them save lives.”
Buchanan expects her African medical students to use the lessons learned during Central Accord 13 for humanitarian and civilian purposes to include major disasters such as earthquakes or other incidents and accidents.
Despite their years of experience in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve, Dalstra with just more than 10 years and Buchanan with 24 years, both commented on how they never experienced a country and culture like that of Cameroon. The extreme heat with temperatures in the high 90s along with 98 percent humidity also presented different physical challenges for the Reserve aeromeds.
“We were impacted by realizing how much we have, just the basics and seeing the extreme poverty,” said Buchanan.
“This was such a once in a lifetime experience. We are so blessed to have had this experience. Everything we shared was very rewarding,” said Dalstra, describing the life-saving lessons and professional connections they made with their African medical counterparts.
Explaining how traveling to Cameroon, experiencing the culture and gaining a greater appreciation for the medical advances in the U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation community impacted her Buchanan said, “I think we learned just as much from our students as they did from us.”