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Rogers: Ramstein's Crucial Role in Aeromedical Evacuation

"They feel like, finally, they are out of the war," Hodson said.

Later, in the chill early evening air, this reporter watched as three large buses converted into ambulances pulled up behind a Boeing (BA) C-17 parked on the Ramstein runway. Inside the buses were approximately 30 patients, most of whom were ambulatory cases, or "walking wounded."

Hodson and a team of around 30 people, which included CASF staff and volunteers from across the base, carefully lifted the most injured servicemembers from the buses on litters and carried them up the C-17's ramp. Inside, the transport plane's cavernous cargo hold had already been converted into a flying hospital, and a specialist Aeromedical Evacuation (AE) team quickly began making the patients comfortable for the flight home to Andrews Air Force base.

Overseen by the Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC), AE is a highly sophisticated global operation, one that has benefitted greatly from advances in mobile health care technology. Examples include a self-powered pneumatic respirator that does not need a power supply, and an Extra Corporal Membrane Oxygenator (ECMO), which can be used for pulmonary and heart bypass. Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003, Air Force AE personnel have conducted nearly 200,000 patient movements and flown almost 42,000 sorties.

This swift transfer of patients marks a stark contrast to the Vietnam war era, according to Hodson, when injured troops would often spend long periods in hospitals far from home.

"Now, if you're injured on a Friday, you're looking to be in Landstuhl by Saturday and in the U.S. by Tuesday," he said.

-- Written by James Rogers at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

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