Saber medical exercise a 'USAFE first'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
As medical technicians hurry to administer lifesaving vaccinations, you watch as the military - renowned for discipline and organization - tries to restore order to a panicked population in the dawn of a global pandemic.

You take a step in line to see the next doctor. You tell her you're fine and just need a shot. But, after taking a swab sample from you, you notice her trying to maintain a cool demeanor.

There's no other way for her to put this: you're carrying the plague.

Now what will they do to you? Or, more importantly, what will YOU do next?

The above scenario isn't from a television series or a breaking news alert about a zombie apocalypse -- it's part of the latest test Team Spangdahlem encountered to boost mission readiness and protect lives.

In the same building where Saber Airmen gear up for deployments, the 52nd Medical Group vaccinated more than 3,000 active-duty Airmen and civilians - or around 6,000 nostrils - against influenza during a medical exercise at the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron Oct. 16.

The group conducted the exercise amid the backdrop of simulated pandemic to demonstrate the 52nd Fighter Wing's capability to service the base population while issuing real-world flu vaccinations. According to the group's final estimate, the 52nd MDG achieved a 91.5 percent vaccinate rate of the base's available population.

"This is not just a shot line-- this is a huge undertaking for the base," said Lt. Col. Daniel Murray, commander of the 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron. "All these people have come together to do something truly phenomenal--a first for USAFE to do this volume and this size."

As the project lead, Murray sought seamless integration with a larger incident management team as the foundation for the base's response exercise, should an actual outbreak occur.

"This point of distribution would be one piece of a much larger plan," he said. "If we were running a large and expanding incident, we couldn't do it all by ourselves. So we're using a process different than we normally use so we can create an incident action plan using the incident command system process. In doing so, we're saving work and time and reducing potential chaos while fusing our response efforts with that of the larger team's."

Part of that fusion also centered on medical Airmen stepping out of their traditional areas of expertise to provide manpower, security and recordkeeping where needed. The subtle variations in their medical professions subsided to develop one corps of medics, as Senior Master Sgt. Paul Ellis, superintendent of 52nd Dental Squadron, who headed up the health care education portion of the briefings, said.

"At the end of the day, we're all about one mission: preserving the life and health of our community which in turn, helps us to execute the wing's mission," Ellis said. "We're all medics and have different functions, but our overall goal is to preserve health and save lives. You have to have that core structure in place to administer the best health care possible."

As participants entered the facility, technicians provided screenings and briefings about the upcoming process. Doctors stood by to attend to individuals who felt sick that day as well as advise them on which vaccination would be administered, if at all.

Airmen then ran as many as 12 vaccination stations at a given time, resulting in an average rate of up to 150 dosages distributed in a less than five-minute window. Regardless of the speed, technicians strived for continuous movement in accurately diagnosing any complications while administering vaccinations, be they the intranasal inhalations or an actual needle.

Senior Airman Bayr Lukomyansky, an ambulance services technician with the 52nd Medical Operations Squadron and St. Petersburg, Russia, native, provided needle vaccinations for the minority of the overall members whose conditions required it.

"You may get a few people who tense up over getting a shot," he said. "But it's still been running smoothly."

Unlike most personnel who received the intranasal mists, those whom Lukomyansky attended to received a superhero bandage to accompany any lingering tenderness in their upper arms.

Civilian dependents and beneficiaries, ranging from school children and teachers to spouses and employees, also received their treatment alongside their fellow participants in uniform. Dozens of children expressed relief at being spared from the needle only to learn about the nasal mist process for the first time.

"If I do this, I don't have to get the shot, right?" asked T.J. Kehoe, 5, son of Tech. Sgt. Travis Kehoe, 52nd Operations Support Squadron.

T.J., along with his brother Liam, 3, accompanied their mother, Laura, to get their vaccinations. Both brothers took the nasal mists with some unique advice from their medical technician.
"I sniffed like a bunny," Liam said. "And then I hopped really high."

Mrs. Kehoe, a Tehachapi, Calif., native, remarked on the overall speed and attention-to-detail the Airmen provided.

"It's been very smooth and enjoyable as far as getting the shots," she said. "It's great to know everyone is here to help us in case something really does happen."

At the line's conclusion, participants received pharmaceuticals - or candy for this exercise - symbolizing the end of their involvement as well as one more life spared for the medical group.

On average, Airmen and civilians completed the line from turning in their medical questionnaires to being handed their candy within five minutes. While that amount of time may represent convenience or a chore to some, it could also be the difference between life and death in an actual pandemic.

"When we get into a disease containment situation, often times, time is of the essence," Murray said. "This exercise proved a lot of different concepts for us, including our ability to handle large volumes of people quickly and process them at a much faster rate than we previously thought. This will allow us to take care of the entire base population in a short period of time. The faster we can get people protected, the more lives we can save."

With the exercise behind them and the possibility of responding to any contingency still before them, 52nd MDG Airmen will continue their mission to provide a full spectrum of the highest quality outpatient medical care to Team Spangdahlem.

"This exercise demonstrated the skill and professionalism our medical Airmen display on a daily basis," said Col. Jill Scheckel, commander of 52nd MDG. "As their commander, I'm proud of their dedication to protecting the health and well-being of our Saber Airmen and community."