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We keep 'em movin', we keep 'em livin'

Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan -- Our En Route Patient Staging System (ERPSS) motto has been “We keep ‘em movin'.'” This we proudly chant at role calls and our wing command events back at Travis. However, upon boots to sand in April 2018 at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, our team of 16 from the 349th Aeromedical Staging Squadron quickly learned that this motto was only part of the mission and only part of why our role is so vital to the deployed environment. 

In only a few weeks we have learned more about our mission, our team, and ourselves. These lessons are invaluable and have guided us to a better understanding of the deployed environment and the true meaning of “I will never leave an Airman behind.”

This is my first deployment so my expectations were the result of stories from other deployed United States Air Force members and from what I saw on television. The real thing is nothing like those stories. 

After being here for 15 days, I was part of one of the largest mass casualty events Bagram has seen in a while. We all donned our Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor and waited in the hot morning sun. 

We waited on the ramp that connects the hospital to the flight line for the medical evacuation helicopter to arrive with what we thought would be nine patients. We hear the angst in the voices coming over the radio. Ground forces are still taking fire and it is not safe to land. We waited some more. I know in my gut today is a milestone event for me. 

The ERPSS team was ready at the ramp and know soon we will receive soldiers injured in the preservation of peace in Afghanistan. I was part of a team to receive the first patient from the helicopter. We transferred our patient to the NATO gurney and wheeled towards the next team for a quick weapons safety check as the ERPSS team cuts away clothing and checks for emergent injuries. A patient trauma name was assigned, and I glanced back to see the remaining ERPSS team, EMS team, and volunteers lined up getting patient after patient after patient. I quickly understood that our original count of nine patients had multiplied. My heart rate increased just a bit at the sense of urgency to quickly move these patients through the hospital doors. We stopped under the massive American flag that canopies the triage area. Our patient arrived at the threshold of safety.

As the trauma nurses and physicians assumed care of my patient, I returned to the MEDEVAC ramp and the number of patients had almost doubled. Every hand was on deck. Every skill set utilized. Every brow damp with sweat. There is no idle conversation. Every single medic was focused on ensuring that each patient who arrives with a pulse stays alive. This was the day that each of us carries with us in some way, shape or form for the rest of our lives. 

As I washed blood off my gloved hands to go and get the next wounded soldier, the course of events was not lost on me. I continued on, as did each and every member of the ERPSS team, and tended to the next patient, then the next and so forth. 

At the end of the day the effects of what happened was easy to see on all of our faces. As we walked back to our dorms in our blood stained uniforms, we all knew we made a difference in this mas casualty.

As I removed my bloody clothes, I realized as an ERPSS nurse, I do not just keep ‘em movin. I play an immense and unique role in keepin ‘em livin. The ERPSS team do much more than simply moving patients from one place to another. We are not the Uber of the desert. We are an essential link in the chain of survival for our wounded and critically ill Airman, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines. 

Our hospital has an outstanding role in this process and one of our chants is: “No one dies today, they live to fight another day!” I realize now that everyonel here- no matter their job or title- plays a fundamental role in getting our wounded and critically ill brothers and sisters safely back home. So, the next time I hear, “We keep em’ movin’” I will know deep down that ultimately, “we keep ‘em livin!”