Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada

Joint Forces Texas-Public Affairs Office (JFTX-PAO)

What started with mannequins in Brownsville, became the unfortunate reality for patients who had to be medically evacuated from Beaumont Saturday.

In less than twenty-four hours, and well in advance of Gustav’s estimated landfall, 247 patients were evacuated from Beaumont and safely delivered to medical personnel at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Personnel from the 136th Airlift Wing, Delaware, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee Air National Guard, demonstrated that the intensive training they received only weeks ago, prepared them for the unfortunate reality of having to move real people, suffering from real illnesses and frailties. Other logistical and liaison support was provided by the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, 149th Fighter Wing and 37th Training Wing.

The mannequins moved from Brownsville in July did not need comforting, water or a favorite pillow. They did not need that cool hand on a troubled brow from medical personnel, but yesterday that was exactly what the air crew and medical personnel were focused on – the comfort and well-being of patients in their charge.

A banding system similar to that being used in hospitals for years ensured that the patient and his or her equipment were tracked in TRAC2ES and input in a computer system. The Global Patient Movement Requirements Center (GPRC) tracked movement of the plane and its precious cargo.

The flight crew worked tirelessly to adjust breathing equipment to the barometric pressures in a C-130 flying at high altitude and constantly monitored patients during flight. The simple reading of a blood pressure cuff became a feat in climbing, balancing and concentrating when the patient was three high and the aircraft banked into a turn.

The constant drone of the aircraft drowned out every possibility of speaking in normal tones at what is considered socially acceptable distances thus the crew used long practiced hand signals and mouth-to-ear yelling.

These folks were pros and they worked enormously hard. After a bit of well deserved rest today, this same crew, the C-130s and medical personnel will fly to Belle Chasse, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in New Orleans today to assist the Louisiana National Guard there.

Here in Austin, medical air evacuation flights from Lakefront, Louisiana have already started arriving at Bergstrom International Airport today. These Louisiana patients will receive the same excellent care as their Texas neighbors yesterday until such time that they can safely return home.

“Protecting life and limb of fellow citizens here or in a sister state in times of crisis is a solemn commitment for all National Guardsmen and women. The Air National Guard medical community is honored and humbled to bring our medical talent and compassion to communities in times of their greatest need,” said Col. Constance McNabb, Texas Military Forces Joint Surgeon. She continued: “Helping other people is why Guard medics serve.”

The proactive stance by local, state and federal agencies and lessons learned resulted in a seamless hand off from a doctor in a hospital to EMS personnel, to a National Guard member. On the ground the local sheriff and his deputies ensured security, and the local fire chief stood by to monitor local conditions. In the Joint Emergency Operations Center and the State Emergency Operations Center an army of personnel directed air flow with the concentration and dedication of people with the single-minded purpose of saving lives.

While this movement of patients was a small victory against nature here Saturday, others still need to heed public service announcements from local officials. There is nothing more precious than human life and the people in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Texas have one thing in common – we are facing a storm that should not be underestimated. Evacuation as inconvenient as they are, is still the only safe option when called upon to do so.

The Adjutant General, Lt. Gen. (TX) Charles G. Rodriguez put it all in perspective when he said: “The training started in Brownsville has brought us where we are today. We have to continuously look for the optimum solution and continue to make improvements based on lessons learned.”

He added: “I believe that real domestic readiness happens when several factors come together: mutually-respected partnerships, open and honest communications, realistic training, and continuous fine tuning of procedures and processes.” “Also,” he said: “While there may be enormous property damage form Hurricane Gustav, we in the Texas Guard all pray that human lives will be spared. Regardless, with our respected partners at every level of government, we stand ready to do our part to save lives and help people get back to their businesses and normal lives.”