Emergency Response—The Famous 507th
by Scott Huddleston, staff
writer, San Antonio Express-News
Editor’s note: Scott
Huddleston noted the wonder years of the 507th
Medical Company (Air Ambulance), long a resident of the Alamo City, lauding
in 20 years of service to South Texas.
For more than 20
years, most emergency air ambulance services in the San Antonio area were
provided free by the Army, as a part of military training for combat.
But the Persian Gulf
War, military transfers and development of civilian air-ambulance services
put an end to the local program called MAST—Military Assistance to Safety
Medical Company was formed in 1970 as a test unit for the MAST Program,
created through an agreement among the departments of Defense;
Transportation; and Health, Education, and Welfare. The agreement was the
first to allow military units to transport civilian patients during what
emergency medical experts call the “golden hour,” which can mean the
difference between life and death.
In its first mission
on July 17, 1970, the unit flew a man hit by a truck about 75 miles from
Dilley to Baptist Memorial Hospital. Although the company’s core mission was
providing medical evacuation during war, it spent about 90 percent of its
time running civilian missions under the MAST Program.
with 120–130 personnel and equipped with seven UH-1 Huey helicopters, the
company performed water rescues, hospital transfers, and emergency
transports from wrecks, shootings, and other trauma incidents within a
radius of up to 200 miles from its base at Fort Sam Houston.
The MAST Program
worked so well it was expanded to other sites across the country in 1973.
But by the time San
Antonio’s MAST service marked its twentieth anniversary in July 1990, there
were signs the service could be jeopardized. The Baptist Health System
planned to start a helicopter service that some feared could threaten MAST,
since Department of Defense rules prevented the 507th
from competing with air services sponsored by civilian hospitals.
Also, the area of
MAST coverage had been reduced to within a 100-mile radius. And there was
talk that the 507th could be moved to
Fort Hood, home of the Army’s III Corps, its parent command, in central
In September 1990,
MAST service in the San Antonio area was halted so the 507th
could focus on training in support of military operations following the
Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. A few weeks later, the service was resumed, but
within a 50-mile radius. By December, the MAST unit was grounded again to
prepare for its 24 December deployment to the Middle East.
A 20-person unit
attached to the California National Guard was sent to provide the local MAST
service while the 507th was overseas
during the Persian Gulf War. Meanwhile, in San Antonio, the Baptist system
had started its helicopter service in early 1991, primarily to carry
critically ill heart patients.
When the 507th
returned in May 1991 from the Persian Gulf, the California guard unit was
ordered to return that spring to a firefighting mission on the West Coast.
By 1993, the Baptist
Health System was reporting losses from its service after its workload
increased from 438 flights in 1991 to about 1,000 in 1993. The next year, it
created a contractual partnership with Bexar County’s taxpayer-supported
University Health System to continue the service, using a $5.5 million Bell
412-SP helicopter with a faster transport speed—about 150 mph—than the
had only 62 flights in 1993, including its 5,000th
civilian mission. By then it had moved most of its operations to Fort Hood,
leaving three helicopters at Fort Sam Houston, mostly to serve Camp Bullis
and Brooke Army Medical Center.
Since then, the 507th
has moved all of its remaining aircraft and personnel to Fort Hood. Fort Sam
Houston now contracts with private air ambulance providers to serve Bullis
and its post hospital.