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“We keep ‘em movin’, we keep ‘em livin’”

By CAPT CHRISTINA HEWETT, 349th Aeromedical Staging Squadron

Here at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, our En Route Patient Staging System (ERPSS) motto is “We keep ‘em movin’.” This we proudly chant at role calls and our wing command events back at Travis Air Force Base. However, upon boots to sand in April 2018 at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, our team of 16 from the 349th Aeromedical Staging Squadron quickly learned that this motto was only part of the mission and only part of why our role is so vital to the deployed environment.

In only a few weeks, we have learned more about our mission, our team, and ourselves. These invaluable lessons have guided us to a better understanding of the deployed environment and the true meaning of “I will never leave an Airman behind.”

This is my first deployment, so my expectations were the result of stories from other deployed United States Air Force members and from what I saw on television. The real thing is nothing like those stories.

After being here for 15 days, I was part of one of the largest mass casualty events Bagram has seen in a while. We all donned our Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor and stood in the hot morning sun. We waited on the ramp that connects the hospital to the flight line for the medical evacuation helicopter to arrive with what we thought would be nine patients.

We heard the angst in the voices coming over the radio. Ground forces were still taking fire and it was not safe to land. We waited some more. I knew in my gut today would be a milestone event for me.

The ERPSS team was ready at the ramp. We knew we would soon receive soldiers injured in the preservation of peace in Afghanistan. I was part of a team to receive the first patient from the helicopter. We transferred our patient to the NATO gurney and wheeled toward the next team for a quick weapons safety check, as the ERPSS team cut away clothing and checked for emergent injuries. A patient trauma name was assigned, and I glanced back to see the remaining ERPSS team, EMS team, and volunteers lined up—getting patient after patient after patient. I quickly understood that our original count of nine patients had multiplied.

My heart rate increased just a bit at the sense of urgency to move these patients through the hospital doors quickly. We stopped under the massive American flag that canopied the triage area. Our patient arrived at the threshold of safety.

As the trauma nurses and physicians assumed care of my patient, I returned to the MEDEVAC ramp. The number of patients had almost doubled. Every hand was on deck. Every skillset utilized. Every brow damp with sweat. There was no idle conversation. Every medic focused on ensuring that each patient who arrived with a pulse stayed alive. This was the day all of us would carry with us in some way, shape, or form for the rest of our lives.

As I washed blood off my gloved hands to go and get the next wounded soldier, the course of events was not lost on me. I continued on, as did every member of the ERPSS team, and tended to the next patient, then the next, and so forth.

At the end of the day, the effects of what happened were easy to see on all of our faces. Walking back to our dorms in blood-stained uniforms, we knew we made a difference in this mass casualty.

I removed my bloody clothes and realized as an ERPSS nurse, I do not just keep ‘em movin’. I play an immense and unique role in keepin’ ‘em livin’. The ERPSS team does much more than simply move patients from one place to another. We are not the Uber of the desert. We are an essential link in the chain of survival for our wounded and critically ill Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines.

Our hospital has an outstanding role in this process, and one of our chants is “No one dies today. They live to fight another day!” I realize now that everyone here—no matter the job or title—plays a fundamental role in getting our wounded and critically ill brothers and sisters safely back home. So, the next time I hear, “We keep ’em movin’,” I will know deep down that ultimately, “We keep ‘em livin’!”