Va. Guard MEDEVAC trains with first responders

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment work with personnel from the Richmond Ambulance Authority and the Medical College of Virginia Feb. 8, 2014, to better understand the process of conducting real-life patient evacuations. Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters departed the Chesterfield airport then flew to Powhatan where they linked up with fire and rescue crews to mimic the pick-up of patients. From there, both aircraft flew to Richmond where they were met by ambulances who escorted flight crew members to MCV for a brief tour of the emergency room and an overview of hospital protocol. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment work with personnel from the Richmond Ambulance Authority and the Medical College of Virginia Feb. 8, 2014, to better understand the process of conducting real-life patient evacuations. Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters departed the Chesterfield airport then flew to Powhatan where they linked up with fire and rescue crews to mimic the pick-up of patients. From there, both aircraft flew to Richmond where they were met by ambulances who escorted flight crew members to MCV for a brief tour of the emergency room and an overview of hospital protocol. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

RICHMOND, Va. – For Soldiers assigned to one of the Virginia Army National Guard’s newest units, the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, Feb. 8, 2014, included helicopters, ambulance rides and a visit to the trauma center at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. The action was all part of a training event designed to provide a better understanding of the procedures and best practices involved in conducting real-life medical evacuations and patient transfers with the MEDEVAC detachment’s UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

“The basic mission of any MEDEVAC aircraft is to save lives,” said 1st Lt. J. Erin Jones, commander of the MEDEVAC detachment. “If we can’t get the patient from the point of injury to a medical facility safely, then we cannot be successful at our mission. Conducting this sort of training insures that when a real mission comes, all parties involved know their part and can perform it safely.”

A primary goal of the training mission was to designate and document the procedures for Virginia Army National Guard helicopters to land safely in the event of an emergency and get a person in need to MCV, according to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Leipertz, one of the standardization pilots for the Virginia Guard and a member of the MEDEVAC detachment.

“These procedures will serve as the foundation for the continuing joint agency partnerships around the state for the 2-135th Dustoff moving forward,” Leipertz explained.

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment work with personnel from the Richmond Ambulance Authority and the Medical College of Virginia Feb. 8, 2014, to better understand the process of conducting real-life patient evacuations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment work with personnel from the Richmond Ambulance Authority and the Medical College of Virginia Feb. 8, 2014, to better understand the process of conducting real-life patient evacuations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The training mission kicked off when the unit’s two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters departed Chesterfield and headed to Powhatan, to pick up their “patients,” in this instance a card handed over by Powhatan first responders to the flight medics. The flight medics then returned to their aircraft, patients in tow, and then both helicopters took off and headed to their respective helipads, both located in Richmond.
The use of two separate helipads, one located at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the other located at Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center, allowed the pilots and crew to assess the feasibility and practicality of both sites and to determine which site to use as their primary landing site in the event of real-world MEDEVAC missions.

At each of the landing sites, flight crew members disembarked the aircraft and linked up with Richmond Ambulance Authority personnel and were then escorted to MCV in the back of an ambulance, as if they were actually conducting a patient transfer.

“We provide this service to the local civilian MEDEVAC helicopters already, and wanted to partner with the Guard as they write their procedure to ensure they have the safest and most excitant procedure for delivering patients to VCU,” said Dempsey Whitt, Director of Operations for the Richmond Ambulance Authority, and who also serves as a sergeant major in the 29th Infantry Division as the chief medial noncommissioned officer.

On the way to the hospital flight crew members discussed with Whitt the logistics of patient transfers, MEDEVAC procedures, hospital and ambulance protocol and communications. Once at the hospital, flight crews climbed out of the back of their escort ambulances, entered the hospital and received a lesson on the required steps should they bring in a real-world patient, while also taking the time to view the trauma center where they would escort those patients.

“It was a different experience,” said Sgt. Angeli Viyar, a flight medic with the detachment, of the training. “It’s something more to look forward to in the future as well.”

“Though the training was hard you could really see the pride of accomplishment during the [after action review],”Leipertz said. “Soldiers didn’t want to leave drill and when they did leave they went home late excited to share the experience with their families.”

For the flight crews, this was just the first step toward standing up the capability to escort real-world patients. The unit is newly-formed and is still in the process of training its Soldiers, developing its standard procedures, receiving federal recognition and becoming mission capable.
“It is an extremely tough job to stand up a unit from nothing and the leadership of the 2-135th are on target and are doing a phenomenal job,” Whitt said.

The training also allowed the crew members to not only walk through the process of patient transfers, but also to meet several key players from civilian agencies and to display an emerging capability within the Virginia Guard.

“In order for us to be relevant we have to demonstrate our unique abilities to agencies outside of the military,” Leipertz said. “All the responders around our state are members of the same commonwealth and we are all one team. Relationships built during a training event like this will bring about trust. Training together will give us the courage to respond confidently when we share our responsibilities with other state agencies during a crisis.”

Following their tour of the hospital and after asking a few final questions, the aviators headed back to Chesterfield to discuss the next steps in their planning process and to conduct an after action review on the training.

“Virginia Dustoff is currently working toward being mission capable as an Army MEDEVAC platform, ready to deploy in support of our Soldiers,” Jones said. “By reaching out to civilian agencies we are additionally working towards being able to offer that capability to the entire state. We have a long road ahead of us, but the end goal is for the Virginia Dustoff to be ready and available in the event of a mass casualty or natural disaster to save the lives of Virginians and Soldiers alike.”

The training event was deemed a success by the unit and would not have been possible without the support of so many civilian agencies.

“Everybody involved did a super job,” Leipertz said. “Noted especially should be Powhatan County, Powhatan Fire and EMS, Richmond Ambulance Service, Richmond Fire, DMV, McGuire Hospital and MCV.”

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment work with personnel from the Richmond Ambulance Authority and the Medical College of Virginia Feb. 8, 2014, to better understand the process of conducting real-life patient evacuations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment work with personnel from the Richmond Ambulance Authority and the Medical College of Virginia Feb. 8, 2014, to better understand the process of conducting real-life patient evacuations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Photos: Virginia Guard MEDEVAC trains with Richmond ambulance, hospital staff – Jan. 8, 2014