by Capt. David Herndon , Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – Utilizing night vision equipment and navigating around volcanic ash hazards, a C-17 Globemaster III and crew from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, alongside aeromedical evacuation and Critical Care Air Transport Team Airmen, successfully evacuated an ailing Antarctic government contractor June 30.
The contractor, who was transported to a local hospital for further treatment, received in-flight care from Airmen assigned to the U.S. Air Force-led Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica, which is a joint service, ongoing Department of Defense activity in support of the National Science Foundation. NSF is the lead agency for the U.S. Antarctic Program.
“Within the scope provided by NSF policy and direction, JTF-SFA coordinates with inter-agency and international partners to provide air and maritime cargo and passenger transportation throughout the Antarctica joint operations area,” said Lt. Col Edward Vaughan, JTF-SFA Joint Operations and Plans chief. “A request for medical assistance was channeled to the joint task force and we quickly coordinated with U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. Pacific Command to provide dedicated airlift and medical personnel to the contractor operating at McMurdo Station.”
Active Duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen attached to this mission assembled the full range of medical and support capabilities and less than 18 hours after being notified of the mission arrived in Christchurch for staging. The crew, comprised of a CCATT, an aeromedical evacuation team, pilots, loadmasters and maintainers, planned side-by-side with interagency partners as they faced the challenge of safely evacuating the patient out of the Antarctic.
“The main focus for us was to stage the crew to successfully perform the aeromedical evacuation,” said Chief Master Sgt. Connie Hoffman, JTF-SFA Joint Operations and Plans superintendent. “There were so many variables that we had to deal with and consider, from local earthquakes to the hazard of volcanic ash and severe weather in Antarctica — the combination of elements faced here makes these types of missions a little more challenging.”
According to the chief, the long-standing relationship between the National Science Foundation and JTF-SFA made for streamlined and rapid stand-up of JTF operations here in Christchurch and led to successful mission execution.
The U.S. Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III, known for its ability to rapidly conduct tactical airlift and ambulatory patient movement, successfully delivered the ailing patient to Christchurch medical personnel at approximately 8:30 p.m. local, traveling more than 4600 miles.
“Flying into Antarctica is always a challenge, though we have the training and experience to make operations such as this one routine,” said Lt. Col. Robert Wellington, 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander, permanently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “Use of night vision goggles is a core competency of C-17 crew members and by developing and refining procedures over the last 4-years we were able to successfully our mission in a dark, arctic environment.”
According to the colonel, the team couldn’t have accomplished the mission without the tremendous support of Joint Base Lewis-McChord Active Duty and Reserve operations and maintenance units, Air Mobility Command and the Tanker Airlift Control Center, Pacific Air Forces and 13th Air Force, and Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica.
For Capt John Fowler, CCATT critical care nurse, this mission underscores the great capability and responsiveness that exists within his unit and the U.S. Air Force at-large.
“While we faced several weather hazards and operated in austere conditions today, our team of Airmen came together quickly to provide support to our interagency partners,” said the captain. “This is what we train to do everyday – integrating with our aeromedical evacuation teams and providing intensive care unit-like capabilities to the [C-17 Globemaster III]. I’m extremely proud that we were all able to come together to make this one happen.”
JTF-SFA forces consist of active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard as well as DOD civilians and attached non-DOD civilians. As a joint service, inter-agency operation, most of the military aircraft and ships used are coordinated and provided by the Commander, U.S. Transportation Command and then attached or assigned to the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command for mission execution.