Once a patient is stabilized, the next step is evacuation to a higher level of care. Medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) began during the Korean War but was used on a much larger scale during the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopters manned with a small crew of four or fewer, responded to the call for an evacuation or the “Dust Off” of wounded troops exposed in the field, airlifting them to care in under an hour. These evacuations were extremely dangerous because helicopters were easy targets, and their vulnerability meant most crews were prone to attack. According to the Dust Off Association, more than 900,000 patients were airlifted and 200 aircrew members were killed during the Vietnam War.
In the early years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, improved helicopters were faster and more efficient than they were in Vietnam, but it quickly became clear that effective staffing of evacuation crews was a crucial need. Staffing MEDEVACs with trained flight medics, critical care nurses, and equipment allowing blood transfusions to take place while in the air, transformed the MEDEVAC system into an advanced system of air ambulances or “Flying ICUs” that created confidence in injured service members’ ability to survive if they made it to the flight.
MEDEVAC, Vietnam, March 1966. Image courtesy of the U.S Navy BUMED Library and Archives.
MEDEVAC, Iraq, 2011.
An aeromedical evacuation of injured patients by a C-17 from Balad, Iraq to Ramstein, Germany, in 2007