Mission: Isolation

How to properly dress and undress aren’t typically the focus of Air Force exercises, but during Exercise Mobility Solace on Tuesday, it was a major consideration. Air Mobility Command used the first day of the two-day exercise to validate its Ebola concept of operations while transporting a simulated patient suspected of having the virus from Charleston, S.C., to JB Andrews, Md., with the Transport Isolation System—a pod enclosed with plastic sheeting and a maintained negative pressure—aboard a C-17 assigned to the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover AFB, Del. AMC Command Surgeon Brig. Gen. Lee Payne said the exercise was the first time each step of the process was tested in a real-world scenario, including safely transferring the patient to a specialized ambulance and then Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “Any time you write something down on paper, it sounds really good. But any time you walk through it, you find holes,” he told Air Force Magazine while enroute to Andrews. “We’re going to learn a lot out of this exercise.”

Earlier tests, Payne said, showed the TIS needed a stronger frame and solid doors, rather than flaps with zippers. The system was introduced in 2015 after the need for the capability was realized during Operation United Assistance. During the flight, an aeromedical evacuation crew practiced caring for the patient, a process complicated by the need to carefully don and remove personal protective equipment in the anteroom section of the TIS to avoid contaminating crew members and the aircraft. Col. Nick Conger, an infectious disease consultant, said the practice is “invaluable” and that the exercise revealed needed procedure tweaks. During Tuesday’s flight, he said the crew discussed how having wash buckets available in the anteroom would help maintain a clean zone. But even though lessons were still being learned, Conger said there wouldn’t have been any contamination breaches if the patient had actually been infected. “So from that perspective, it went very well,” he said. If AMC were called tomorrow, Payne said, “we could execute this mission.”