JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
The Air Force's ability to provide an aeromedical evacuation to patients with infectious diseases just received a new tool in its toolbox.
General Paul J. Selva, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, publicly introduced the military's newest capability, the Transport Isolation System, Jan. 23, 2015 at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
The Transport Isolation System, or TIS, is an asset the Department of Defense can use to safely transport patients with highly contagious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or the Ebola Virus to name a few.
The TIS can be configured to accommodate anywhere from one to eight patients and is roughly the size of a minivan. Two fully configured TIS pods can fit inside the cargo bay of a C-17 Globemaster III. In all DoD plans to purchase 25 TIS units; with Joint Base Charleston receiving the first operational unit on Jan. 10, 2015 and the second on Jan. 15, 2015.
Before the TIS could be rolled out, a testing of the system was needed; this is where JB Charleston and its Airmen, both active-duty and Reserve, come into the picture.
JB Charleston was named as one of two TIS testing sites, with the other being Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. During the month of December, Airmen from the 628th Air Base Wing, 437th Airlift Wing and the 315th Airlift Wing, assisted the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center with developing the ground and flight TIS procedures.
"This was quite a task in that we interfaced with more than 50 team members, across eight various career fields, from six different bases in a very short time frame," said Maj. Matthew Garcia, 437th Operations Support Squadron pilot and the operations group lead project officer. "When the testing finally kicked off, it was exciting to see everyone come together for a common goal."
According to Maj. Victoria Thomas, 17th Airlift Squadron pilot and operations group project officer, the 437th Airlift Wing was responsible for working closely with the test teams to ensure they had access to whatever they needed to complete the testing.
The 437th AW also acted as the liaison between the test teams and the aircrews flying the testing missions to build diverse test sorties.
"From extra testing to working long weekend days, the aircrew and the test teams' flexibility and drive made the TIS possible," said Thomas. "JB Charleston provided the equipment and the manpower necessary to make this happen, and now we have modules ready for deployment at a moment's notice right here in the Lowcountry."
On the day when the first call comes in that the TIS is needed, the 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron will be the unit responsible for getting the TIS mission ready.
Each TIS support team, made up of four Airmen from the 628th AMDS, had to be trained on how to assemble the TIS, from start to finish for flight.
According to Lt. Col. Raymond Clydesdale, 628th AMDS commander, during the TIS training phase the TIS support team was trained on how to configure and deconfigure the TIS along with establishing a plan for the decontamination of the pod.
"It takes approximately one-and-a-half hours to build and configure each pod for loading in the aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Louis Lough, 628th AMDS NCOIC of the Dental Laboratory and TIS team member. "This includes the time needed to construct the frame for each pod. In moving forward, the frameworks may or may not already be constructed."
TRANSCOM has said early orders of the TIS will be delivered fully assembled and some of the later units will likely be disassembled for easier storage.
For the loadmasters from the 317th Airlift Squadron reserve unit, loading the TIS was like loading any other pallet of cargo.
"For the loadmaster the [TIS] unit was essentially just like any other cargo on a pallet that would be locked into the rails system," said Chief Master Sgt. Bryan DuBois, 317 AS loadmaster superintendent and lead loadmaster during the TIS training. "We worked through various scenarios to make sure we could load the unit in various configurations from all the cargo loading equipment available."
Getting power to the TIS also fell onto the shoulders of the loadmasters.
"We were also instrumental in helping connect the unit to all of the aircraft systems for lighting and oxygen."
For aeromedical evacuation crews from the 315th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, the TIS provides them with the means to deliver safe care to infected or suspected infected patients.
Master Sgt. Pamela Evanosky, 315th Aeromedical Evacuations Squadron aeromedical technician knows first-hand how important an asset like the TIS is. While deployed to Japan during a SARS outbreak, Evanosky was faced with the possibility of having to provide care to an infected child while wearing full biomedical gear.
"Although I felt my aeromedical training had been great, I wasn't very confident at the time in my ability to provide the care needed to the child in our everyday aeromedical evacuation environment because of the limitation in keeping a non-infectious environment contained using our standard setup," she said.
With the introduction of the TIS, AE crews will no longer have to worry if they will be able to provide adequate care to patients.
"The TIS will deliver not only the capability to transport multiple patients, it will also provide a negative pressure environment within the aircraft and the 'room' to provide safe medical care in the air regardless of the situation," said Evanosky. "In addition, I can exit and enter the TIS when needed because it has been designed to allow me to do so per the highest Center for Disease Control standards and regulations."
The aeromedical crews assigned to TIS mission received a week of training, which included the operations of the TIS and patient care within the TIS, along with an in-depth training on personal protective equipment.
According to TRANSCOM, when deployed, a typical TIS mission will have a medical team of 11; this number includes three flight nurses, four aeromedical evacuation technicians, one critical care physician, one critical care nurse, one respiratory therapist and one infectious disease physician.
The development of the TIS has revolutionized the way the military transports patients with infectious diseases and will enable improved efficiency and a safer environment for everyone involved.
"Our approach was if we are going to put military members in harm's way, the capacity to move a single patient at a time was insufficient to the mission we were asking our team to do," said Selva. "We needed a system like the one [we have] today.
Michael Dukes from the 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office contributed to this article.