For the first time ever, the Air Force evacuated three U.S. government contractors who had tested positive for COVID-19 out of Afghanistan — using a modified transportation method originally used for Ebola patients in 2014.
Air Mobility Command aircrew and medical personnel headed into Afghanistan to retrieve the U.S. citizens, and brought them back to Ramstein Air Force base on April 10, the Air Force said. Upon arrival at Ramstein, the contractors were shuttled to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for additional treatment.
The aeromedical evacuation flight, known as REACH 725, involved a team equipped with a Transport Isolation System force package aboard a C-17 Globemaster III.
The Transport Isolation System, or TIS, was originally developed in 2014 to carry Ebola patients and requires a tent-like, infectious disease containment enclosure enabling COVID-19 patients to receive treatment aboard aircraft like the Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III or C-130 Hercules, while also protecting aircrew members from exposure to the virus.
REACH 725 included aeromedical evacuations specialists, Critical Care Air Transport Team members, infectious diseases doctors and technicians, along with TIS operators. They were pre-staged with a C-17 from Joint Base Charleston and TIS at Ramstein starting in late March in preparation for missions like this one.
The evacuation came shortly after the Air Mobility Command unveiled its COVID-19 Patient Movement Plan.
“Through the meticulous effort of AMC’s planners over the past few weeks, in coordination with U.S. Transportation Command, we’ve produced a detailed plan that guides our crews on how to safely and effectively move ill patients to a location where they can receive greater care, all while providing protection for our aircrew, medical personnel and aircraft,” Brig Gen Jimmy Canlas, 618th Air Operations Center commander, said in an Air Force news release.
“Within hours of completing and releasing this plan to the force, the crew of REACH 725 validated the hard work of these planners by safely transporting three COVID-19 patients nearly 4,000 miles from Afghanistan to Landstuhl,” Canlas said.
The Air Force started beefing up its TIS training last month and tailoring the method for COVID-19 patients.
“Because of the requirements of transporting personnel with infectious disease like COVID-19, we can’t use our traditional methods of transport without risking the medical crew in the back of the plane, and the rest of the crew in the front,” Col. Leslie Wood, Air Mobility Command en route care medical director, said in the Air Force news release. “And if we lose these crews, we lose operational capability.”
Reach 725 marks the first time Air Mobility Command aircrew and medical personnel have used ever transported COVID-19 patients.
The Air Force has tapped Joint Base Charleston to function as the TIS training hub, and 10 instructors have trained approximately 100 aeromedical evacuation personnel on this method.