- Published: 20 March 2011
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CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq — As American forces prepare to depart from Iraq, there will be a few individuals staying through until the end. The individuals included in the stay are a part of the critical care air transport team, or CCATT, stationed with the 332nd Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight out of Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The CCATT is capable of providing an equal amount of intensive care and treatment a patient would receive in a regular hospital during aerospace transit to installations that can provide better intensive care to the patient. The concept of CCATT has been around for a number of years and was originally developed in the early 1990s, with teams first deployed by 1995, said Air Force Col. James King, the CCATT theater medical director at Al Udeid Airbase, Qatar. Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are where the CCATT has really proven its value. As the years have passed and more experience has been gained within the CCATT community, the level of critical care in the air has improved. "The advances we've made with aero-medical evacuation, in part to the use of CCATTs, has helped support that effort to provide the best medical care for our war fighters when they get injured," added King, who is stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. "Back in the 80s, the thought of treating patients was, 'let's build a big hospital downrange, and we can treat patients as they come off the battlefield,'" said Air Force Capt. Napoleon Roux, the Joint Base Balad CCATT medical director with the 332nd EAEF. "Patients would spend weeks in the theater hospital before they'd make their way back to the states. "Now, it's switched to, 'let's get them out of here fast, let's get them to Germany or even better, to the States where there is a lot of specialty care, like burn units.' "These CCATTs are comprised of physicians, nurses and respitory specialists, all trained in critical care, and usually travel in a C-130 or C-17 Air Force aircraft.
The skills of a CCATT are not limited and also include doctors that specialize in emergency medicine, pulmonary critical care, surgical care, cardiology and anesthesiology. After a patient movement request has been made at the patient's location, a team at Al Udeid Airbase, Qatar, will fly the plane to Joint Base Balad where the CCATT will spring into action. A typical day for the CCATTs start with a ring from their pocket -- their paging device. "Within 30 minutes of getting alerted, we need to be at the office getting equipment ready to go," said Capt. Roux, who is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. After packing their mission-essential equipment and attending an intelligence briefing, the team makes their way to the patient to meet with other medical specialists. Because the CCATT is not a typical emergency care team and can sometimes deal with more intensive injuries and illnesses, they must gather background information on the patients prior to the mission in order to assess what types of medications and equipment to bring. "The whole process takes about four hours," said Roux. "Typically, before we even get alerted, we know about the patient. We make daily stops over to the hospital and learn about the patients, so it's no surprise [after getting alerted]. Nonetheless, with transport time, we're talking a 12-to-16-hour day. In the Air Medical Evacuation realm, we maintain that pace for five days straight before we get some rest." "Most of our missions have been to Germany," said Roux. "It's a five-to-six-hour flight. During that whole time, we're adjusting medication and giving blood products as needed. We're essentially providing intensive care mid-flight." Often times, the type of missions the team supports include transporting a patient from one forward operating base to another. Regardless the flight time, it's the treatment that the team is allowed to administer mid-flight to ensure that the patient survives that makes a difference. "I feel like we have a small piece of the puzzle that helps these guys survive their traumatic and devastating injuries," said Roux. "We are taking care of someone's father, someone's brother, wife, or daughter. We try to treat patients as if they were our own family members because a lot of these folks who are getting hurt are those outside the wire, and they are doing a great service to our country by putting their lives at risk. It's extremely rewarding knowing that we have a part in getting them home to see their loved ones." "If it wasn't for the CCATTs, our people wouldn't have made it without the specialty care that they provide," said Army Capt. Joy Williams, the chief patient tracking administrator with Headquarters Headquarters Support Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division out of Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. Although the number of battle injuries in Iraq is decreasing, mild to severe illnesses still exist. Throughout the drawdown process, it is rest assured that those who find themselves dealing with an illness or injury these illnesses are safe in the CCATT's hands. There is still going to be a requirement for that high level of medical assistance that the CCATT offers, said King. The service members and civilians still out in country can count on high quality medical and surgical care to get them safely back to the United States. The CCATT system will continue to provide that high level of care. "As long as there is one coalition or American Soldier in theater, there needs to be access to a CCATT," said Roux. "It's my opinion that we will be here until the very last boot takes off."