Air Force Partnerships in Africa

Oct. 30, 2017

Ghana army Capt. Seth Essiaw (l) and SMSgt. Benjamin Barnett establish a drop zone during a 2016 African Partnership Flight in Ghana. Photos: SSgt. Gustavo Gonzalez; SSgt. Stephanie Longoria; TSgt. Ian Dean; TSgt. Brian Kimball; SSgt. Rachelle Coleman

In the Lake Chad region of West Africa, a humanitarian disaster and the subsequent need for aeromedical evacuation “is a very real possibility.” Such an event would likely involve multiple countries.

And so, for African Partnership Flight Nigeria, the US Air Force wanted to help partner nations coordinate and pool resources in planning a joint aeromedical evacuation, so “they could overcome the fact that one country might have the aviation resources, but the other has the doctors,” Maj. Andrew Moisan told Air Force Magazine.

Moisan, the team leader for this event, said Active Duty airmen from Ramstein AB, Germany, and Scott AFB, Ill., and Air Guardsmen from California, worked together for the training that included participants from Chad, Benin, Niger, and Nigeria.

Lt. Col. Kimberly Polston, a flight nurse who works as an international health specialist with the Office of the Command Surgeon, US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, said the training scenario was an earthquake near the border. Five countries had to respond. There were 5,000 displaced people, and the scenario commander wanted each group to deploy 1,000 ground troops and all available aviation and medical assets—including ambulances and hospitals—to the region.

The countries already move each other’s patients, she said, “but they know it’s an area where they could use some assistance.”

First, Work as a Team

“Some of the countries had really strong deployable medical capabilities, and other countries had … larger aircraft to help move these hospitals,” Polston said.

She said the US trainers talked about different echelons of medical care and UN guidelines for aeromedical evacuation, because while Nigeria, for example, has good medical capabilities, it doesn’t really know “how to interface with the airlift and the pilots.”

One of the most important elements of the APF was getting medical personnel and pilots talking, Polston said, “to get them working together as a team, and then to have them think about patient movement.”

Many medical personnel didn’t know how many patients could fit on a given aircraft, so the trainers had pilots and medics look at that and at the staffing requirements for ambulances and various levels of hospitals, “because they have to move their equipment [and] their people, too.”

A critical aspect of the event was how to share resources, since every country doesn’t have the same capabilities, Polston explained. One country has C-17s, C-5s, and helicopters, some countries have multiple level 1 and 2 hospitals, and some don’t have any.

The groups had to look at what they had available “to determine what they were going to move and where they were going to put it,” Polston said.

The trainers gave the participants the weights of a Level 2 hospital and a Level 1 hospital, how much pallet space each takes, and the size and weight of ambulances, but they had to do their own research to determine how much an individual service member might weigh and what capabilities each aircraft has.

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The Stresses of Flight

Trainers also went over stresses of flight, because pilots and medics may not know how altitude and movement can affect a patient.

“Patient care is different in the air,” Polston explained.

The groups looked at force health protection, since part of the scenario was deploying ground troops to the area.

Though the training really just touched the surface of what they can do, Polston said, the big focus in US Africa Command is “rapid response and quick deployment in support of peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance disaster response.”

“We want to be able to train our partners so they can respond independently and regionally,” she added.

About 30 USAF personnel participated in the mid-August APF, Moisan said; the first part of the week focused on classroom instruction and best practices, with the tabletop exercise putting all the pieces together at the end of the week.

“I think our partner nations really enjoyed it, they enjoyed the interaction with the other nations, and I think they all really learned quite a bit during this event,” Polston said. “And they said, ‘This is exactly what we need. We need to be working together with our partner nations from a regional approach.”

_Jennifer Hlad is a freelance journalist based in the Middle East and a former Air Force Magazine senior editor.