Airmen from three Air National Guard wings heading to Poland for aeromedical training and exercise

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey
  • 166th Airlift Wing, Delaware Air National Guard
Sixteen Airmen from Air National Guard units in three states are heading to Poland to train with local personnel April 20-24 and participate in a mass casualty exercise. 

Six aeromedical evacuation specialists from the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, part of the 166th Airlift Wing, Delaware ANG, and two radio operators from the 109th AES, part of the 133rd AW, Minnesota ANG are being flown to Poland aboard a C-130H transport aircraft from the 182nd AW, Peoria, Illinois, manned by seven Illinois ANG aircrew. 

After Delaware ANG Airmen prepared equipment and supplies Wednesday and met with radio operators from Minnesota, they joined up Thursday with aircrew from the 182nd Airlift Wing at the New Castle, Del. air base. Also travelling with the group is Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Haggerty, the aeromedical evacuation functional manager from the National Guard Bureau at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

They departed for Europe and after a few days of flying will reach their destination. 

Lieutenant Col. Haggerty oversees all 10 ANG units with aeromedical evacuation squadrons. He and several other Guard planners travelled to Poland for five days in February to plan this April's training mission. They met Polish officials at an Epidemiological Response Center and at the Wesola Military Training Facility, both outside of Warsaw, and at the Frederic Chopin International Airport in Warsaw. 

The key word that describes a training outcome for Col. Haggerty is 'interoperability.' "We think this is a good opportunity to train together, and explore opportunities for future aeromedical evacuation training," said Col. Haggerty. He explained that initially the exercise had patient decontamination and medical treatment pieces, and planners then added a patient movement piece, a new role for the ANG in Poland. 

Upon reaching Poland the Airmen will join two Illinois National Guard members on the advance team for the exercise. 

One member is Illinois ANG Capt. Justin Short, officer-in-charge for the Expeditionary Medical Support response portion of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) during the exercise. Capt. Short is the State Homeland Security Planning Officer, Illinois National Guard Joint Force Headquarters. The second Guard member is Illinois Army National Guard Capt. Joe Bright, who went to Poland in June 2008 as CERFP officer-in-charge for a Bio Safe exercise. 

They will work at a former Soviet air base just outside of Warsaw, and train with members of the Polish Military Medical Service, Czech Republic and Slovakia forces, and civilian agencies such as the Red Cross. They will use radio technologies from one or both nations, and set up a C-130 aircraft configured for aeromedical evacuation of patients. They will share ideas and best practices, learn from each other, and then put their skills to use during an exercise that tests their responses to simulated emergencies. 

The training is intended to help authorities in Poland, a NATO partner, prepare for potential mass casualties during the 2012 European Championship Soccer Match (the Euro Cup), which Poland will host for the first time. The Euro Cup, one of the most prestigious soccer events in the world, is held every four years in a different country. Over one hundred thousand people watch the games live. 

Over the last 10 years various forms of training with military and civilian personnel between the two nations has occurred, but this is the first time in memory that aeromedical evacuation training has occurred between American and Polish forces. 

"We have highly skilled Airmen in our AE unit, well-trained and experienced in providing medical evacuation and health care to people wounded in combat situations and to civilians affected by natural disasters," said Col. Chuck Gebhart, 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron commander. "We are proud to share our expertise with our Polish allies, train with them and learn together to better handle any mass casualty situation arising in the future." The 166th AW finished an Air Force Operational Readiness Inspection earlier this month at the Alpena, Mich. ANG Combat Readiness Training Center. Numerous 142nd AES Airmen received individual recognition from the Inspector General Team Chief. But what made his unit stand out, Col. Gebhart said, was their excellent performance during the recent Presidential Inauguration and their work last year in humanitarian relief missions during Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. 

The Delaware ANG Airmen deploying are aeromedical technicians Senior Airman Tom Morris, Tech. Sgt. Sandra Clevenstine and Master Sgt. Doug Stephens, flight nurse Maj. Ben Meadows, communications officer Capt. Stacy Culton and radio operator Tech. Sgt. Bill Austin. 

The Minnesota ANG Airmen deploying are radio operators Tech. Sgt. Shawn Fitzhenry and Tech. Sgt. John Flatten. 

The Illinois ANG Airmen deploying are crew chief Staff Sgt. Robert Zidrich, co-pilot 1st Lt. Brian Rezac, aircraft commander Lt. Col. Terry Feather, navigator Capt. Eric Dolan, flight engineer Master Sgt. Samantha Yanez, and loadmasters Staff Sgt. Justin Kass and Tech. Sgt. Joseph Amato. 

Overcoming the English-Polish language barrier in training is a challenge, but the AE crews frequently work with troops from other nations and are up to the task, with some translators to help. 

Technical Sgt. Bill Austin said, "I learned some very basic Polish from an elderly Polish lady I used to work with," and added that he had a working knowledge of German after having lived in Germany for three years. He said, "From my experience, German is a second language for many Poles." Still, he and several Delaware and Minnesota Airmen practiced up on common Polish expressions. 

Captain Stacy Culton, a commercial aircraft pilot in her full-time civilian job, is looking forward to the training and working with their Polish counterparts. "I like instructing, and I like to share information with others. It is all about attitude." She also spent time before departure making sure gifts were brought along for their hosts. 

Senior Airman Tom Morris, a waiter and bartender in his civilian job, has served three years in his squadron, and said he is looking forward to the exercise. "I think it'll be a good experience," he said. 

Technical Sgt. Sandra Clevenstine teaches world history, social studies and micro economics at Middletown High School, a local public school in Delaware. She said the trip is a wonderful opportunity to bring back new information and ideas for her classroom. "We have maps up on the wall, and it is a chance to travel somewhere and then tell the students how I experienced another country firsthand." 

The two radio operators from Minnesota have served together in their unit for nine years, and also served on other overseas deployments. Sgt. Fitzhenry said he had met Delaware 142nd AES Airmen at Volk Field, Wisconsin training, and during other contingency operations training. Sgt. Flatten said his motto during the Polish mission was "semper-gumby," to be flexible and learn how they needed to best train together. 

The relationship between the Delaware and Minnesota ANG Airmen and the Polish forces they will soon meet is yet to develop. 

For Illinois Guardsmen, however, a considerably longer and deeper relationship with Poland exists. 

Illinois navigator Captain Dolan said he and other unit members had been to the Polish air base that they will fly into four to five years ago. "It is an old Soviet-era base. It is a real blast from the past," he said. 

Over several years, dozens of Illinois Guard members, Airmen and Soldiers, as well as civilians, have worked with the Polish people. 

Stood up in 1993, Illinois and Poland was one of the first state partnerships in the National Guard's State Partnership Program (SPP). The SPP mission, according to the NGB, is to link National Guard states and territories with partner countries for the purpose of fostering mutual interests and establishing habitual long-term relationships across all levels of society. The SPP started in the Baltic region of Europe in 1993 after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and initially focused on matching U.S. states with former Soviet satellite nations. There are now 61 partnerships with U.S. states and territories. 

The Illinois National Guard and Polish forces frequently train together. On average, according to the NGB, the Illinois National Guard and the Polish military conduct 10 events every year. Also, Illinois Guard troops have augmented Polish forces in Iraq and now in Afghanistan. 182nd AW ANG members have already trained with Polish Airmen, and more training is being planned. 

This new aeromedical evacuation training comes after the arrival in Poland on March 24, 2009 of the first of five modernized and upgraded C-130E model transport aircraft, the first C-130 aircraft in the Polish military inventory. Deliveries are scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2010. The Polish C-130 crews were trained by Airmen from the 118th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee ANG, making the ANG-Polish air force connection even stronger. 

According to the U.S. Air Force in Europe, the C-130E aircraft expands the Polish air force's ability to transport troops and equipment while providing support for evacuation and humanitarian missions. Its presence in the Polish fleet will also increase their interoperability with other air forces because the C-130 is used by several nations around the world, to include NATO allies. The C-130E and C-130H models use similar systems for aeromedical evacuation, and training on either airframe will benefit Polish forces. 

Poland is now a well-established NATO member. 2009 is the 10 year anniversary of Poland's admission into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Formed in 1949, NATO is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. In 1993, shortly after the Supreme Soviet abolished itself in December 1991, signaling the collapse of the Soviet Union, a process was begun by existing NATO member nations to plan the gradual admission of more nations. 

In March 1999 Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary became full NATO members as part of the first wave of enlargement of NATO, bringing the total members to 19 nations. In 2004 seven other eastern European nations joined NATO, to include Slovakia, bringing the total membership to 26 nations. In April 2009 Albania and Croatia joined NATO, bringing the total membership to 28 nations. 

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Poland moved forward with U.S. assistance on acquiring 48 F-16 multi-role fighters, with all F-16s delivered from 2006 to 2008. The 183rd Fighter Wing of the Illinois ANG has travelled to Poland several times to assist the Polish air force in their F-16 training. Poland is acquiring C-130 cargo planes, HMMWVs, and other items key to the Polish military's restructuring. Polish military forces have served in both Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and have helped in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. 

Note: This article includes material from NGB, USAFE, AFNEWS, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassy, and NATO.