“Angel de los Andes” leads Reserve Citizen Airman to South America for training exercise

Natural disasters come in all shapes and sizes whether it’s a hurricane, wildfire, earthquake, or other event and they can happen at any time.

These occurrences can leave thousands of people in dire situations needing evacuation, medical care, food, and assistance rebuilding.

Readiness exercises training for these situations is always at the forefront of the Air Forces’ priorities.

Reserve Citizen Airman Lt. Col. Heleno Souza, 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron chief administrator, participated in the multinational, Colombian led exercise for the second time, Sept. 10, 2021. Souza returned to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, after spending two weeks in Colombia participating in exercise Angel de los Andes. The exercise focused on international search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and aerial evacuation.

“The first few years of this exercise were predominately focused on aviation operations and search and rescue,” said Souza, who was the only participant from the 944th Fighter Wing. “This year was a turning point in terms of medical readiness.”

Souza’s responsibility in the exercise was to command a team of 50 medical personnel. His team included members from the 302nd Airlift Wing, the Air National Guard, the Army National Guard, as well as medical professionals from different countries.

“Souza serves multiple functions on these trips, from coordinating logistics to overall planning on these missions with foreign military and various cultures,” explained Maj. Zaid Fadul, 944th Medical Squadron flight surgeon. “Learning to do your job with limitations and in an unfamiliar environment breeds creativity, confidence, and ingenuity.”

The training occurred in several locations throughout Colombia, to include Rionegro, Covenas, and Palanquero, Souza added.

Reserve Citizen Airman Lt. Col. Heleno Souza, 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron chief administrator, shows off several patches from partner countries, at Jose Maria Cordova International Airport in Colombia, Sept. 9, 2021. Souza collected these patches while participating in “Angel de los Andes,” a two-week multinational, Colombian led exercise Aug. 30-Sept 10 that focuses on international search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and aerial evacuation. (Photograph courtesy of Lt. Col. Heleno Souza)

“The medical training included rescue teams providing the initial medical response to the patient on the ground before critical care is administered on the aircraft during transport to an expeditionary medical clinic for further stabilization,” explained Souza.

This exercise was made up of more than 280 military and civilian personnel from 21 countries in the Americas — from Canada, the United States, and South America.

“Some of the most important aspects of this training exercise are diplomacy and building relationships with our partner countries,” said Souza.

During the two-week high tempo exercise, the team completed more than 175 flight hours involving aircraft from many different countries, treated 82 simulated patients, and medically evacuated 37 simulated patients.

“The world is so much smaller than ever before, which makes this interoperability so important,” said Souza. “This global engagement is vital, not only for the Air Force but for the United States’ national security.”

According to Fadul, an exercise like this in a different environment with different nationalities is a huge benefit to medical personnel at all career levels to improve critical thinking and sharpen medical skills.

“Being thrust into an austere forward environment will be much less intimidating and a lot more comfortable in a real-life scenario,” said Fadul.

Souza is looking forward to participating in “Angel de los Andes” in the future.

“To see this many health care professionals from multiple countries seamlessly working together in a standardized structure was very gratifying,” said Souza.

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