The 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center collaborated to make history Sept. 16 through 20 during Operation Swift Savior, a patient evacuation exercise, at Luke Air Force Base.
The exercise scenario began with a simulation of the president of the United States declaring a “state of disaster” in Arizona as a result of a simulated extended power outage. The scenario required patients (mannequins) to be transported from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to Luke Air Force Base for staging at the 944th ASTS. Once at the 944th ASTS the patients were stabilized and prepped to be loaded onto a C-130 Hercules transport and delivered to Nellis AFB, Nev., the next day. The final destination for the patients was the Las Vegas Veterans Affairs Medical center where they stood up a federal coordinating center to receive the casualties from Phoenix.
Lt. Col. Michael Chesser, 944th ASTS Hospital Services Flight chief critical care air transport physician, was one of the original architects of the exercise. When not at his Reserve job, Chesser is employed by the VA as one of the physicians on the VA’s Emergency Management Committee, and designated medical care director.
Chesser, in collaboration with Lt. Col. Lisa Banyasz, 34th Air Evacuation Squadron, Peterson AFB, Colo., Luke Ritz, Phoenix and Tucson Veterans Affairs Area Emergency Manager – Region IX, VHA/Office of Emergency Management, 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson AFB, and the 56th Medical Group successfully organized the most extensive cooperation in an exercise between the VA and U.S. Air Force in the Southwest.
“We did a patient reception exercise in Phoenix in 2010 where we flew a plane in from the Channel Islands and conducted care on the ground here,” Chesser said. “This exercise was built on that concept but was much more extensive.”
Capt. John Lewis, 944th ASTS Medical Readiness officer, and Master Sgt. Alan Boss, 944th ASTS Medical Readiness/Logistics superintendent, designed, wrote and organized the official training plan for the Luke AFB portion of Operation Swift Savior. Ritz drafted the operational plan, which was used for the regional exercise.
“The primary purpose of this training was to provide 944th ASTS members with Air Force specialty-code specific and readiness skills verification training,” Boss said. “The second purpose was to provide manpower and support to the VA health care system’s operational mission and build stronger relationships between the VA, Arizona Department of Health Services, 944th FW, 56th FW and other participating units.”
The exercise was planned and coordinated over the past six months between the players in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado through frequent conference calls. Many parts of the community (federal, state and local level) are motivated to build on these experiences and continue to improve integration and cooperative ability.
In conjunction with the official exercise, additional training for Luke participants also took place. The 944th ASTS, MDS and civil engineer squadron members, as well as 56th MDG, security forces and CE members participated in an Introduction to Radiological and Nuclear Response Course put on by the Defense Nuclear Weapons School, Kirtland AFB, N.M., during a portion of Operation Swift Savior. The one-day course was designed to train Airmen on equipment needed for dealing with various radiological or nuclear response scenarios.
“It’s important they understand how detection equipment works, to provide an accurate response,” said Master Sgt. Lucas Avery, Defense Nuclear Weapons School. “And this was a perfect tie into the exercise already being conducted.”
“The exercise came off without a hitch on our end,” Lewis said. “Deficiencies seen in past exercises, such as poor litter carry were definitely remedied before this exercise and were performed flawlessly. We are looking forward to bigger and better exercises in the future.”
Nellis AFB and the 99th Medical Wing had approximately 300 personnel participating with more than 400 participants involved in the entire exercise. The Las Vegas venue also included 12 local hospitals, which provided the final reception point for 150 live patients to replace the mannequins arriving on the C-130.
“We had such great success with the exercise this week,” Chesser said. “We are very excited about recreating ‘Swift Savior’ again in the near future and broadening the pool of who we exercise with. There are discussions to incorporate more military units within Arizona including more active-duty, Reserve and National Guard assets in the Air Force and Army. We also hope to integrate state, local and tribal entities for our next exercise, making it a premiere event.”