455th EAES creates mobile ICU for in-flight care

Senior Airman Joshua O’Sullivan, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron respiratory therapist, administers medicine to a critically injured patient being transported via C-130J Hercules for aeromedical evacuation from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES creates and operates a portable intensive care unit aboard aircraft that enables them to transport critically injured or ill patients to a higher level of care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Senior Airman Joshua O’Sullivan, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron respiratory therapist, administers medicine to a critically injured patient being transported via C-130J Hercules for aeromedical evacuation from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES creates and operates a portable intensive care unit aboard aircraft that enables them to transport critically injured or ill patients to a higher level of care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Alex Bedard, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team doctor, fills a syringe for a critically injured patient being transported via C-130J Hercules for aeromedical evacuation from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES works closely with the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, which provides fixed-wing aircraft on alert to move patients throughout the theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Alex Bedard, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team doctor, fills a syringe for a critically injured patient being transported via C-130J Hercules for aeromedical evacuation from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES works closely with the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, which provides fixed-wing aircraft on alert to move patients throughout the theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Alex Bedard, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team doctor, watches over a patient being transported via ambulance to a C-130J Hercules for aeromedical evacuation from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. Aeromedical evacuation teams undergo training to provide in-flight patient care for wounded or ill patients throughout Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Alex Bedard, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team doctor, watches over a patient being transported via ambulance to a C-130J Hercules for aeromedical evacuation from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. Aeromedical evacuation teams undergo training to provide in-flight patient care for wounded or ill patients throughout Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team move a patient onto a litter at the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2017. CCATTs are made up of a doctor, a nurse and a respiratory therapist who provide in-flight medical care to critically injured or ill patients. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team move a patient onto a litter at the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2017. CCATTs are made up of a doctor, a nurse and a respiratory therapist who provide in-flight medical care to critically injured or ill patients. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Alex Bedard, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team doctor, takes notes aboard a C-130J Hercules while transporting a patient from Kandahar Airfield to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. Members of the 455th EAES transport critically ill or injured patients from austere locations throughout Afghanistan to receive a higher level of care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Alex Bedard, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team doctor, takes notes aboard a C-130J Hercules while transporting a patient from Kandahar Airfield to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. Members of the 455th EAES transport critically ill or injured patients from austere locations throughout Afghanistan to receive a higher level of care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Shawn Lawson, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse, adjusts a respirator aboard a C-130J Hercules while transporting a patient from Kandahar Airfield to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The patient was an Afghan National Army soldier who suffered injuries during a battle. The CCATT brought him to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan to receive treatment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. Shawn Lawson, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse, adjusts a respirator aboard a C-130J Hercules while transporting a patient from Kandahar Airfield to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The patient was an Afghan National Army soldier who suffered injuries during a battle. The CCATT brought him to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan to receive treatment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron carry a patient from an ambulance into the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES provides care to U.S. and coalition service members, civilian employees and contractors throughout Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron carry a patient from an ambulance into the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES provides care to U.S. and coalition service members, civilian employees and contractors throughout Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron carry a patient from a C-130J Hercules to a waiting ambulance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. Patients are at their most vulnerable while being transported, so aeromedical evacuation technicians are trained in providing continuous stabilization, advanced care and life-saving intervention techniques in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron carry a patient from a C-130J Hercules to a waiting ambulance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2017. Patients are at their most vulnerable while being transported, so aeromedical evacuation technicians are trained in providing continuous stabilization, advanced care and life-saving intervention techniques in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

1st Lt. Sarah Jun, 455th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight nurse, directs litter carriers bringing a patient onboard a C-130J Hercules to transport him from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield, to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bragram Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES creates and operates a portable intensive care unit aboard aircraft that enables them to transport critically injured or ill patients to a higher level of care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

1st Lt. Sarah Jun, 455th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight nurse, directs litter carriers bringing a patient onboard a C-130J Hercules to transport him from Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield, to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bragram Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2017. The 455th EAES creates and operates a portable intensive care unit aboard aircraft that enables them to transport critically injured or ill patients to a higher level of care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Staff Sgt. Errington Neysmith and Senior Airman Joshua O'Sullivan, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron duty controller and Critical Care Air Transport Team respiratory therapist, respectively, carry respirator equipment when picking up a patient from the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2017. The patient was an Afghan National Army soldier who suffered injuries during a battle. The CCATT brought him to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan to receive treatment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)
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Staff Sgt. Errington Neysmith and Senior Airman Joshua O'Sullivan, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron duty controller and Critical Care Air Transport Team respiratory therapist, respectively, carry respirator equipment when picking up a patient from the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 22, 2017. The patient was an Afghan National Army soldier who suffered injuries during a battle. The CCATT brought him to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan to receive treatment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
An intensive care unit is usually a sterile environment – white hospital walls, pristine floors, bright fluorescent lights, dozens of medical professionals.

The intensive care unit that the 455th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron operates out of the back of a C-130J Hercules is a different scene entirely.

It’s dark and cramped. The only light is from headlamps and glowing green bulbs in the cargo bay. Three medical professionals are doing the work of 12 – caring for a critically-injured patient at his most vulnerable.

Their job is to get a patient from forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan to a higher level of care. This usually means bringing them to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield for further stabilization and then on to hospitals in Qatar, Germany and the U.S. depending on the severity of the patients’ injuries or illness.

Members of the AE squadron, along with their Critical Care Air Transport Teams, are on constant alert to quickly evacuate injured or ill patients. They travel with everything they may need to treat the patient while in the air. The complex and critical nature of injuries sustained in a combat zone requires each member to be experienced in treating multiple forms of trauma, providing continuous stabilization, advanced care, and life-saving invasive interventions.

All of this must be done while flying in a deafeningly loud aircraft, which often makes non-standard or evasive maneuvers while flying over a war zone.

“We develop a very strong bond as a team,” said Senior Airman Joshua O’Sullivan, a CCATT respiratory therapist. CCATTs are comprised of a physician, nurse and respiratory therapist and treat the most serious of patients. “Because of the environment, we have to be able to trust one another to each do our part.”

The first mission they went on as a team when they arrived in country was to pick up a seriously injured U.S. service member from the point-of-injury, caring for him on his trip to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital and then onto Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

According to O’Sullivan, the challenging nature of the service member’s injuries and their ability to handle those challenges as a team strengthened their trust in one another that has only grown with each mission.

Their patients are U.S. and coalition service members, civilian employees and contractors. Many of their battle-wounded are Afghan National Army soldiers.

“They are, in many cases, fighting alongside us or on their own. They are fighting for a way of life,” said Dr. (Capt.) Alex Bedard, CCATT physician. “It is as an honor to care for them.”