Yokota sustains 24/7 Air Medical Transport

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Manuel G. Zamora
  • 459th Airlift Squadron

The 459th Airlift Squadron performed a trial run of a new readiness posture for medical transport on Dec. 18, aiming to offer 24/7 airlift support, streamlining the patient transfers from the 374th Medical Group at Yokota Air Base, Japan, to other medical facilities in the region.

The 459th AS manages the UH-1N Huey helicopter which was initially crafted for casualty evacuation, with the capacity to accommodate six stretchers, 11 ambulatory patients, or two prone patients with medical technicians on board.

Since 2019, the 459th AS and 374th MDG have successfully completed 14 medical transport missions. This capability reduces patient travel time by over two hours for each leg of the journey, with the most recent transport occurring on Dec. 28, 2023.

“By establishing a 24/7 response capability, the 374th MDG is extending access to time, the most critical resource in any medical situation,” remarked Lt. Col. Max Walters, 459th AS commander. “It's a great thing to provide, especially overseas where access to host-nation care sometimes has limitations.”

At this time, the capacity is only used to transport members from Yokota though there is potential to expand in the near future, thereby enhancing availability and accessibility of medical care.

Each helicopter crew from the 459th AS arrives fully trained in a comprehensive set of skills tailored for this task, meticulously honed during their training at Fort Novosel, Ala., and Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. These skills enable the team to operate efficiently and, above all, ensure safety.

"Ensuring safety is paramount during mission execution," stated Tech. Sgt. Jeovany Vasquez, 374th Operational Support Squadron, UH-1N instructor flight engineer. "Maintaining good judgment and effective risk management are the keys to safely accomplishing the mission and ensuring success for all involved parties."

During natural disasters or contingencies, the UH-1N patient transport mission becomes crucial for transferring providers and patients to and from regional medical facilities and other military installations.

"Working closely with our 374th MDG has been an incredible experience,” explained Capt. Casey Guardia, 459th AS UH-1N pilot. “Their effort to involve medics in our medical transport service and familiarize them with helicopter operations is commendable. This expansion enables us to assist the base and local community and showcase the exceptional capabilities of the Huey."

The congested ground travel in the Tokyo area is recognized as a circumstance where helicopters become imperative for specific mission requirements. Using modest innovation, this capability leverages existing equipment, enabling U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force to enhance accessibility to medical care for all of their personnel and families in the region.