Keesler medical team at Houston airport poised to support Harvey relief effort

C-5 with personnel for disaster relief efforts

U.S. Air Force Personnel from the 502nd Logistics Readiness Squadron load supplies and equipment on a C-5 as part of Total Force efforts on Aug. 30, 2017 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Approximately 70 Airmen from Air Education and Training Command departed JBSA-Lackland Kelly Field Annex Aug. 30, 2017, in support of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ismael Ortega)

502nd Logistics Readiness Squadron personnel load pallets containing medical supplies and equipment Aug. 30, 2017 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

502nd Logistics Readiness Squadron personnel load pallets containing medical supplies and equipment Aug. 30, 2017 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Approximately 70 Airmen from Air Education and Training Command departed JBSA-Lackland Kelly Field Annex Aug. 30, 2017, in support of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The team composed of Airmen from JBSA, Texas; Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; and Vance Air Force Base, Okla., are in route to provide medical support in Houston. A Critical Care Air Transport Team also accompanied the group to areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The CCAT is designed to support combat casualties being evacuated from the combat zone and also supports humanitarian assistance efforts during peacetime. This includes natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, which has affected thousands during massive flooding that began Aug. 26, 2017 in Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Johnny Saldivar)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- An Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team and a supporting logistics team from here arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, Aug. 30, to support the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.

The CCATT is made up of three members from the 81st Medical Operations Squadron: Dr. (Maj.) Allison Buel, Maj. Douglas Wilkerson, critical care nurse, and Staff Sgt. Kyle Gabrielson, respiratory therapist.

“Our primary mission here will be to fly patients from the Houston area out to a receiving hospital somewhere in the country to ensure they get the care they need,” said Wilkerson. “We are helping with the staging of any critical patients who need treatment while we wait for a mission to spin up.”

The logistics team from the 81st Medical Support Squadron is made up of two members: Senior Airmen Dustin Lewis and Jason Rambo, medical logisticians.

“We are integrated with our active duty and guard units from all over to help set up facilities and begin receiving patients,” said Lewis, the logistics team chief. “We manage the inventory of all products required by the CCATT and we ensure they get anything they need in an efficient manner.”

The CCATT, in collaboration with the logistics support, ensures patients are safely and quickly transported to higher echelons of care.

“Currently, the local hospitals are being overwhelmed with patients,” Wilkerson said, “and those patients are going to need to go elsewhere. If there are no local hospitals that can receive them, they will need to reach out and find a hospital that can take them. If they are critical, the CCAT team needs to manage those patients over the long flight.”

Taking advantage of any ‘opportune aircraft,’ the team will execute orders from up the chain of command and transport patients anywhere in the U.S. that they require. But this is not just any flight.

“When you consider the distance that you have to go in the air where you have partial pressure, turbulence, decreased humidity and an extended flight, all while transporting someone who is already unstable you need a team of professionals who are already trained to manage patients in those unique conditions, and that is where the CCATT comes in.”

The scene on the ground at the Houston airport is one of controlled chaos Wilkerson explained.

“Multiple departments; active duty, national guard, health and human services… each individual component is organized and poised to support this effort,” Wilkerson said. “We are just working through the coordination between these agencies, but from what I have seen, there is a lot of cooperation between the different services because we all share the same goal which is to save lives.”

Lewis said that he is seeing the same level of cooperation on the logistics side of the operation, too.

“We are all in this fight together,” Lewis said. “We are all wearing the same uniform and no one can tell the difference between the active duty or national guard, we all just want to work together to accomplish the mission.”

The Keesler CCATT has been on the ground for less than 24 hours in Houston and has not received their first tasking but Wilkerson says they are ready at a moment’s notice.

“If there was somebody who was in critical need of medical care and none of the local hospitals are capable of proving that, what other options do they have?” Wilkerson asked. “We need to get them out of this area to a place where it’s safe and dry and they can get the longer term care they need.”