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Honduran Air Force, US Army partner for first-ever online MEDEVAC training course

By Maria Pinel | JTF-Bravo Public Affairs | June 29, 2020

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras —

Twenty members of the Honduran Air Force graduated from a Basic Aeromedical Evacuation training course provided by Joint Task Force- Bravo, June 19. The three-week academic training course included the participation of 13 nurses and seven doctors stationed at different Honduran Air Force bases, who connected with their JTF-Bravo counterpart from the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment through video chat.

Early planning phases began in November 2019 with a site visit to the Honduran Air Force Medical Evacuations Team in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to learn more about their “Wings for Health” program. Though not the original plan, due to COVID-19 and social distancing precautions, the course occurred entirely online with participants connecting from the cities of Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba, Comayagua and San Pedro Sula.

“We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of their program and asked how JTF-B could help them improve. They expressed a desire to establish a partner medical training program and provided us with a list of requested lecture topics based on areas where they felt they were lacking knowledge and experience,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Julie Sargent, Critical Care Flight Paramedic, 1-228 Air Ambulance Detachment. “We then structured the course curriculum to meet their requests. Our initial goal was to conduct the course at their base in Tegucigalpa; however, we established an alternative solution when faced with COVID-19 challenges.”

Though faced with having to adapt the program to a different structure, Sargent ensured students got the most out of their participation, keeping them actively engaged and invested every week by integrating more questions and creativity to each lesson, showcasing the adaptability of the force when there is an identified need for supporting partners.

“The course has been very interactive. We haven’t had any issues and our staff is learning a lot,” said Honduran Air Force Lt. Obed Antonio Contreras, general physician and chief of medical services for Soto Cano Air Base, who was the point of contact for students participating from the base. “They share opinions, chat and debate on the subjects so there are lots of opportunities for interaction even if it is online.”

The training included how to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries, how to care for different patient populations during transport and discussions of critical care paramedic considerations during flight operations. The rigorous content was provided to the students a day beforehand to give them time to prepare for next day´s class. The idea was that students needed to create questions, generate discussion and maximize participation, in subjects ranging from trauma response and pediatric care to toxicology emergencies.

“In my personal experience as a nurse, everything has involved care of stable patients and in this course I am learning how to handle emergency patients,” said William Orellana, Soto Cano Air Base Aerial Security Police and course participant. “Subjects have been ample and we really need to study them but it has been a great experience and I am very satisfied.”

The “Wings for Health” program began several years ago and consists of the use of military aircraft to transport patients from remote locations or to transport those who are in critical need of emergency care to a regional hospital with their required specializations. The program has been a great success and has benefited the local population, adapting from the use of helicopters to the use of Cessna Caravan planes that are essentially “aerial ambulances.”

“Aeromedical evacuations [here] have saved many lives. We have reached areas where it would have been impossible to save the patient without it since they would have had to travel for a day, 12 hours -- through this program they can be receiving immediate care in a hospital within an hour,” said Contreras.

With current medical conditions in the country deteriorating due to the ongoing pandemic and with parts of Honduras still under development with difficult access, this training is of significant importance and the first program of its kind, laying the foundation for a sustainable and continuous aeromedical training program.

“Hondurans conduct approximately eight aeromedical evacuations per week; therefore, I hope the participants found the material relevant and applicable to their everyday missions,” said Sargent. “The goal of the course was to bridge knowledge and experience gaps to ensure all members of the Honduran Air Force medical team can continue saving lives.”

While this training is a great benefit to the host nation, it also provided an opportunity to strengthen and showcase the close relationship sustained between U.S and Honduran military forces and the partnership between JTF-B and Honduran Air Force medical professionals. The course also promoted the expansion of each team’s medical knowledge through the sharing of experiences, the participants’ diversity and by learning about each other’s medical protocols to reinforce treatment standards for quality medical care.

“Technology has its challenges but I am thankful that it exists and we were able to use it,” said U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Kathleen Flocke, JTF-Bravo surgeon. “It was a great experience because we got to build it from zero and create what we wanted and make it really customized to what the Honduran Air Force needed. We really do work together – they come to us when they have concerns and we go to them when we do - so the fact that they felt comfortable to bring us their idea so that we could work on it together was a great part of this deployment for me. Getting to know them has been one of my favorite parts of this job.”