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NEWS | Sept. 30, 2022

Firebirds transport critically infected patient from Okinawa to Hawaii

By David Bedard 176th Wing Public Affairs

Airmen of 517th Airlift Squadron transported an infected patient and family Sept. 21 from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The C-17 Globemaster III-equipped unit is a regular Air Force unit associated with the Alaska Air National Guard’s 144th Airlift Squadron, where the 144th AS owns the aircraft and the 517th AS provides additional aircrew.

The aircrew was 517th AS pure and was accompanied by a 176th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 crew chief maintainer.

Air Force Maj. Gabriel Paterson, C-17 pilot and 517th AS assistant director of operations, said the crew received the mission in Thailand after dropping off servicemembers there.

Paterson said after they arrived at Kadena AB, 517th AS loadmasters loaded a Negative Pressure Conex-Lite and plugged the system into the Globemaster’s power supply with the assistance of the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. Once the system was ready, an ambulance arrived with the patient who was sealed in the conex with family members as well as 18th AES and 18th Medical Group medical technicians who provided patient care.

According to a 15th Wing Public Affairs news release, the 15th Medical Group provided ground medical evacuation support, transloading the patient to a 535th Airlift Squadron C-17 at JBPHH.

Paterson said, though he has trained aeromedical evacuation during exercises, this mission was his first time operationally supporting the critical function. He said the Globemaster is well suited to the mission.

"The jet is very capable with the ability to load different types of cargo and the equipment to quickly meet the needs of critical patients such as this," the Monument, Colorado, native said. "Also, the C-17 has long legs carrying plenty of fuel to get anywhere in a short amount of time, so we're ideal for the mission."

The C-17 pilot said, though the mission was unexpected, he was pleased to be able to help a patient in need.

“It’s always good when you can help,” Paterson said. “It was a little chaotic at first figuring out what was going on, but it’s nice to jump on something last minute to be able to help out a patient and family get to where they need to go – especially when you have family overseas who need to get back to the states for the care they need.”

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