Reservists take mission from air to sea

  • Published
  • By David L. Yost
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Among the gray ships that are indicative of a U.S. Navy port lies the all-white USS Arizona Memorial, which commemorates the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, that drew the United States into World War II.

The memorial, located on what is now Joint Base Pearl Harbor – Hickam, is currently closed to visitors for repairs. Yet it has drawn the immediate attention of a contingent of military members from Joint base Lewis-McChord, who are on a different kind of tour of a different kind of all white ship, the USNS Mercy.

Adorned with large red crosses, it’s a hospital ship tasked with providing medical care to people during catastrophic events. Airmen and soldiers from JBLM got to tour the ship after participating in a joint training event where they were moved as patients to the Mercy after receiving medical treatment on a C-17 Globemaster III.

“It’s a hospital that floats,” said Maj. Claudia Perry, Flight Nurse, 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. “It’s impressive. They have everything that a hospital would have.”

Once aboard the Mercy, patients are moved from a holding area to one of the lower areas of the ship where they can be treated for different injuries or illness. A patient can undergo an X-ray scan or receive a blood transfusion, as there are 15 patient wards and a blood bank with a capacity of 5,000 units. There’s also a robot surgeon, which was used on a live patient for the first time in May of 2018.

Members of the 446th AES are not required to provide the same level of treatment, but the goal of offering medical aid in a crisis is similar.

Many reserve citizen airmen assigned to AES have medical careers as civilians. This allows them to bring to the military hospital experience that they would normally have to obtain from leaving flying status. The added exposure to treating trauma patients maintains a mindset that can be associated with the Mercy. Long periods of calm that is fragmented by training that will ultimately be used to respond to a disaster.

“We do the same thing. We prepare for the worst case scenario,” said Capt. Jennifer Riportella, Flight Nurse, 446th AES.

Of concern to both vessels is patient movement, and it’s something that the medical professionals assigned to the 446th Airlift Wing are constantly seeking to practice. Live patients offer a different feel than moving medical mannequins. They’re not as easy to move in confined spaces, and are often carrying baggage with them that would be expected to accompany a patient in a crisis. And though it may seem obvious, mannequins don’t provide feedback the way live patients do.

By using live mock mass casualty victims from JBLM, Rainier Wing medics were able to add a layer of realism to a joint military environment.

“It’s great to interact with other services, and see how our missions align,” said Perry.

In the event of a natural disaster, patients in either locations of this scenario could be transported by air or sea. Hawaii and Washington State can be affected by earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanic eruptions.

“In a state of peacetime we both work toward a state of readiness so that as a team, we are prepared when we are called upon to help,” said Riportella.

Navy personnel work alongside civilian cadre. The dual nature is reminiscent of the life of a reserve citizen airman. Though the opportunity to work in uniform on the Mercy may not be readily available while in the Air Force Reserve, experience gained while serving may help when seeking a position as a civilian. Riportella has considered trying to do just that.

“I would. To be part of something bigger than myself.”