BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN — A key part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing’s mission is providing extraordinary Role 3 medical care on the combat frontier.
But before a medical technician can take a patient’s vital signs or a surgeon can operate, they must first have a facility and medical equipment ready to go.
That responsibility falls onto a small team of Airmen who provide the logistics and facilities management needed to keep Craig Joint Theater Hospital ready to care for patients.
“We’re the backbone to make the hospital go,” said Maj. Thomas Naughton, 455th Expeditionary Medical Group hospital administrator for CJTH deployed from Luke Air Force Base where he is the 56th Medical Support Squadron Medical Logistics flight commander.
“We’re the support side of things,” he said. “We make sure the clinicians have all the things they need and that the facility is functional and in good condition so the providers can come in and focus on their duty.”
The team works daily on repairs and maintenance to make sure services are available when needed. Being a 24/7 operation, it doesn’t matter how a patient comes to the clinic – whether it’s medevac, aeromedical evacuation, driven to the emergency department or patients walk in – the hospital is ready to go to provide patient care.
As the hospital administrator, Naughton said his responsibilities include overseeing the logistics section that provides the maintenance and supplies to keep the hospital working, as well as handle administrative duties to process the reports needed for higher headquarters. Some of his other duties include supporting manpower assessments and medical planning requirements needed during the drawdown.
One of the three Airmen keeping CJTH up and running is Tech. Sgt. Scott Hatch, 455th EMDG biomedical equipment technician and facility manager who ensures the clinic has the utilities, power, oxygen and supplies to operate.
“We make sure the staff has the equipment they need and the facility is ready to support the mission,” Hatch said. “Our physicians are capable of working in any environment, but the specific capabilities CJTH provides is a stable platform for advanced medical care. The facility management team has to make sure the facility is ready to treat patients at all times.”
In a combat zone like Afghanistan, the facility manager also plays a key role in guaranteeing the facility is good to go during or after attacks.
“If something happened during an IDF (indirect fire) attack, I’d coordinate with first responders, contractors and all the other agencies on Bagram to get the facility back up and running so we can keep doing our mission,” Hatch said. “My job as a facility manager is to make sure the facility is intact.”
Part of making sure the CJTH is able to execute its Role 3 mission is making sure the equipment and supplies are ready.
“Over the course of a year, we have more than 2,000 pieces of equipment we do preventive maintenance on,” Hatch said. “We do it all, everything from thermometers to the CT scanner, which is a vital piece of equipment for us to maintain a 98 percent survival rate of injured patients who come into the hospital.”
For a hospital to get a Role 3 rating, it must be able to provide advanced surgical services and in-patient bed care. A Role 4 hospital provides rehabilitative services.
“We have the ability to provide surgical services and an intensive care unit that we can house patients in for post-surgery recovery. We also have a ward where we can have patients stay for various amounts of time before they need to be transferred,” Naughton said. “A big part of Bagram is our aeromedical evacuation mission; we keep patients here until they are healthy enough for transportation to the next level of care like Landstuhl (Regional Medical Center), which is a Role 4 hospital.”
According to Naughton, Hatch and his team have been part of some big successes to keep patient care moving forward.
“There were a few times when maintenance issues came up in the middle of a mass casualty event, and they made repairs on the fly,” he said. “They got the repairs done quickly and got the doctors their equipment so they could continue to provide care.”
Naughton said it would take some time to highlight the great things done by Hatch and his team.
“Sergeant Hatch has done a great job here,” he said. “It would take me an hour to walk around with you to show you all the improvements he has done to make this a better facility. We aren’t focused only on making sure the facility is maintained and ready to go at a moment’s notice, but also drawing down,” Naughton said. “We’ve had a lot of victories in removing unneeded or excess materiel or transferring equipment to meet retrograde requirements. We are balancing all of that and still meeting Role 3 capabilities.”
According to Naughton and Hatch, it was rewarding to be a part of the mission to provide extraordinary Role 3 medical care here.
“For me it’s rewarding to be here and be part of this mission,” Hatch said. “I get to see the impact of my work. You see patients come into the facility, go into the operating room, see them in the ward a few days later and then see them transported to Germany by the AE team. It’s humbling and amazing to be a part of this.”
Naughton says he loves the mission and being there also.
“We get to help people with life, limb and eyesight medical care,” he said. “As support personnel we get to see the medical operations as providers seamlessly care for patients. I like that I get to see patients come in, see the amazing things our medical providers do and then get the patients moved on to higher echelons of care.”