WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — A group of 19 Airmen from the 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron consisting nurses, medical technicians and medical administration specialists arrived in San Diego March 14, 2022 to perform their two-week annual training at Naval Medical Center San Diego.
The mission officer-in-charge, Lt. Col. Kathy Miller, 445 ASTS mission officer, along with the NCO in charge/team lead, Senior Master Sgt. Zachary Fontaine, nursing services superintendent, were excited the Airmen from their unit were able to participate in this unique opportunity for real world training.
“We have two main annual tour opportunities that offer hands-on training for our medical folks and the slots are very limited due to COVID-19,” said Miller. “We are very fortunate to have this opportunity.”
NMCSD is a 268-bed, multi-specialty hospital and ambulatory complex. The hospital is part of the Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command, and is the U.S. Navy’s largest West Coast hospital, according to NMCSD officials.
The 19 annual training participants from the 445 ASTS assisted in the intensive care unit, emergency department, post-anesthesia care unit, pediatrics, simulation training lab and patient administration.
To remain current and maintain their readiness as reservists, the medical Airmen have training requirements, or comprehensive medical readiness program (CMRPs), that must be signed off on annually.
“It is an incredible opportunity for our folks, who may not work in the medical field outside of the Reserve, to work in a full capability treatment facility in order to maintain proficiency in their core set of skills,” said Fontaine.
“Practicing these skills on a mannequin at the squadron every month is just not the same,” he added. “Many of the younger Airmen have not had the chance to do annual training away from home station,” said Fontaine.
Senior Airman Bhishma Desai, medical technician in 445th ASTS, is not only able to complete annual training, but crossing off many of the requirements needed for upgrade training to advance to the next skill level for his job. Three other Airmen on this tour are also receiving invaluable instruction in their upgrade training.
“This is a great experience because there are a lot of hands-on training opportunities. Transitioning from what we do in staging to in-house to patient care is very beneficial,” said Desai. “I came back from tech school last year, and this is a great opportunity to get a lot of stuff signed off. I received a lot of pointers on doing IVs and EKGs [electrocardiogram]—things I rarely get to do.”
Another unique characteristic of this training opportunity is the chance to work with another service in joint operations. The Navy’s hospital corpsmen are working hand-in-hand with the Airmen, helping them to gain useful training and experiences outside of their usual environment.
“I enjoy the fact that we get to work with other branches to see the way they do things, and be able to take some aspects back to our squadron,” said Staff Sgt. Mary Czarnecki, 445th ASTS medical technician. “I really like the hands-on training because we don’t see this every day so it is really valuable. If you don’t do certain skills regularly, you can lose your proficiency. This is much better than watching computer-based trainings or performing procedures on a mannequin. We are getting really good practice, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here.”
Five Airmen from ASTS’ medical administration also received valuable experience by assisting NMCSD with digitizing more than two million records.
“We don’t usually get to deal with patient medical records at our unit because our unit’s mission is patient movement,” said Tech. Sgt. Angela Thompson, medical readiness NCOIC, 445th ASTS.
Another 445th ASTS health service management journeyman, Senior Airman Ryan Faris, gained valuable knowledge while working at the naval hospital.
“It’s been nothing but learning to be honest,” said Faris. “Working with a different service, we gain perspective and process insight of how the Navy does things versus how the Air Force does them. It has been very cooperative. We can pick up new skills from them and show them how we do things as well.”
While these medical administrators learn to do all of these things in their career field’s technical training, being at a staging squadron, it is not the same as handling the massive amount of information that the hospital processes.
“The tasks we do in our unit is a little more admin focused since we are not in a medical treatment facility, not in a hospital environment. Now we have the opportunity to understand death packages, inpatient and outpatient records, and patient records requests. All of these things are adding up and giving us a clearer picture,” said Staff Sgt. Ramello Rhodes, 445th ASTS health service management journeyman. “The Sailors here have been really good advocates to get us exposure and training with all of these different record sections.”
In operational environments, aeromedical staging squadrons often work in partnership with other branches, including the Navy, so joint training like this ensures seamless integration and mission success.