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446th AES professionals return home after worldwide deployments

An Air Force Reserve medical professional takes photo near aircraft carrying medical equipment.

Tech. Sgt. Yochabel Zink, 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight mission planning noncommissioned officer in charge, returned home last month from a five-month deployment stateside. “Take care of yourself first and taking care of the mission comes in unison as you have a sound body and mind to fulfill it,” said Zink on what she learned about resiliency during her deployment. The primary mission for the deployment was to provide lifesaving in-flight patient care in response to COVID-19 contingencies and humanitarian emergencies. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

Fourteen Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron returned home the last couple of weeks from deployments stateside and overseas.

The primary mission for these Reservists was to provide lifesaving in-flight patient care in response to COVID-19 contingencies and humanitarian emergencies. Each crew was built as specialized medical teams consisting of flight nurses and medical technicians who will be supported by a Critical Care Air Transport Team and an Infectious Disease Team as needed for various medical missions.

Tech. Sgt. Yochabel Zink, flight mission planning noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC), was deployed for five months in California to help in the COVID-19 fight. She described some of the challenges she faced during her time there.

“The constant posture changes is likely the most interesting challenge in my opinion during my deployment,” Zink said. “With the aim to mitigate everyone’s exposure to COVID-19, we had rules such as no comingling of different force package members, no gatherings of more than 10 people.”

Capt. Kristen Houmes, a 446th AES flight nurse, was deployed overseas for seven weeks for COVID-19 response before being reassigned to the east coast of the United States to set up a testing site for outbound military personnel, Department of Defense contractors, and their families.

“My group was tasked with setting up a COVID-19 testing site at an airport,” Houmes said. “We encountered multiple challenges including creating new policies and procedures, identifying short falls and finding solutions to create a safe and efficient system.”

Reserve Citizen Airmen sometimes deploy on short notice, which usually means adjusting and rearranging priorities, including their civilian jobs.

“I am a federal employee for the Department of Veterans Affairs and they fully support the mission that I have to fulfill being a medic for the Department of Defense,” Zink said.

As with any deployment, there are always new lessons for Airmen to learn to make the next one go smoother.

“The biggest lesson I learned about this deployment is the importance of being a good wingman not just for my fellow service members, but as well as for myself. To take care of my well-being. To balance my mind, my emotions, and my physical body that is susceptible to stress and fatigue. I learned to further balance my life away from my support system,” Zink said. “I also learned and realized how much COVID-19 changed the world in so many aspects. From the operation that the Air Force established to deploy us there; to the change of routines around the world which we have to abide by when we fly missions in different areas of operations.”

For Houmes, flexibility was key.

“I learned to always stay flexible,” Houmes said. “Moving from one mission to another, as well as creating a testing site from scratch, takes a lot of coordination.”

Now that these Airmen are back home for some much deserved downtime, they have some tips for their brothers and sisters-in-arms who now have their turn to deploy in the future.

“Look after yourself and find a balance not just to support the mission but your well-being as well,” Zink said. “Take care of yourself first and taking care of the mission comes in unison as you have a sound body and mind to fulfill it.”

As COVID-19 response requirements for more medical personnel, aeromedical evacuation capabilities, logistics experts and other specialties grow, the Air Force Reserve was granted the authority in March 2020 to activate as needed by executive order.