St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands --
Staff Sgt. Kenny Stewart said let there be light, and there was none. And it wasn't so good.
"I thought the bulb was out," he said, halfway through an aeromedical evacuation training (commonly called "AE" training) mission here.
The day prior, Sergeant Stewart, a boom operator assigned to the 931st Air Refueling Group, was up in the air on a KC-135 Stratotanker
with 11 AE technicians at the start of the mission. The problem with the light happened when it was needed for a simulated emergency with a patient.
"Someone said the light in the bathroom was out too," Sergeant Stewart said, "then I remembered the circuit breaker."
It was a lesson learned in training that could help save lives when Sergeant Stewart experiences a real AE mission.
"You don't want to learn (AE lessons) by fire," Senior Master Sgt. Ron Nowasell said.
Sergeant Nowasell was one of the Airmen who responded to the simulated emergency when one of the few lights inside the famously dim KC-135 went out. He has been an AE tech for 22 years and is the chief of AE training for the 22nd Air Force at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.
The AE mission would surely "suffer" without the support of KC-135 units like the 931st, he said, to include training for both AE and tanker crews.
"Your guys help our guys," he said to a member of the 931st Saturday, "and we help your guys."
Sergeant Stewart is a good example. He joined the 18th Air Refueling Squadron (the flying unit of the 931st) in January after a tour in the active-duty Air Force that never included flying with an AE crew.
"He had never seen a patient palette before," Sergeant Nowasell said, referring to a device used to load aeromedical evacuees on to aircraft.
As a boom operator, Sergeant Stewart's job usually means guiding the device at the tail of a KC-135 that other aircraft hook up to for refueling.
But during AE missions, KC-135s don't pass fuel and boom operators have to assume many rolls, to include loadmaster, flight attendant, KC-135 tour guide, and sometimes, electrical troubleshooter.
"It's huge," Sergeant Stewart said about the value of his first AE training mission.
The training also offers opportunities for the other members of KC-135 aircrews, the pilots, to learn about AE nuances. Patient conditions can limit what elevation a tanker flies at, for example, and emergencies can cause the need for more speed.
Lt. Col. Keith Kontz was one of three pilots that Sergeant Stewart and a team of AE Reservists mostly from McGuire AFB, N.J., teamed up with for the training mission.
Flying AE crews to and from St. Croix, he said, allows Reserve pilots to complete a requirement that they fly overseas once a year. St. Croix is one of the few places where they can do that without flying all the way to another continent.
Hawaii is the other main destination for AE trainers, Colonel Kontz said, unfolding yet another way the AE mission benefits refuelers. Sandy beaches and tropic breezes tend to help troop moral.
to read about how the KC-135s benefit the Air Force's aeromedical evacuation mission.
to watch (raw) video of the 931st/514th AE training mission.