Medical Evacuation Concepts and Capabilities Division (MECCD) yearly update Fall/Winter 2023

COL Sam Fricks

Well, 2023 has been a heck of a year. It has also been challenging, rewarding, and quite frankly, a bit frustrating, especially here near the end.

The best thing about MECCD, are the people. This year, LTC Audrey Boenker left us, as she set out for her BN Command of the 121st Field Hospital. MAJ Suzannah Palmer recently assumed the role of the deputy chief, and she is coming to us fresh from Fort Bliss, where she served as the GSAB XO. We also gained SFC Justin Jackson, who recently served as an OC/T at JRTC. We promoted our NCOIC, Jason Sigmon, to the rank of Master Sergeant. Mark Robinson retired after 14 years of civilian service (on top of many decades of uniformed and contractor service). SFC Billy Raines retired after 20 years. Mike Bishop came on as a Department of the Army Civilian, and Jacque Miller joined the team as a contractor. Talk about some transition!

We started the year with the MEDEVAC Limited Objective Experiment, which nicely complimented the DUSTOFF Reunion. Ben Knisley even put on his old “Chocolate Chips” and provided an excellent lecture on lessons learned from Operation Desert Storm. Our very own George Hildebrant was inducted into the DUSTOFF Hall of Fame. We were glad to share such an extraordinary experience with him!

A couple of days later, I departed with a team from Office of the Surgeon General (OTSG) to Europe to gather observations and lessons learned from the war in Ukraine. It was a very eye-opening trip that provided information for our modernization efforts. The threats to medical units, high casualties, use of drones, and being contested simultaneously in all domains creates an environment where it is nearly impossible to evacuate the wounded. Wheeled, unarmored ambulances had about a 3-5-day life expectancy, due to direct and collateral damage. This information helped MECCD convince Army Senior Leaders that we needed to develop a Wheeled Protected Ambulance (WPA). This was not an easy task, as the Army had just invested $1B into modernizing the M-997A3 (HMMWV Ambulance), which is essentially unusable on battlefields, like Ukraine and the battlefield of the future. Currently, MECCD is writing the Abbreviated-Capability Development Document to establish the specific requirements of the WPA. More to follow on this effort.

The Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) is our other main modernization effort. The Army decided to select the Bell V-280 tiltrotor as the airframe for FLRAA. Regarding, specifically, the MEDEVAC mission, I absolutely believe the Army made the correct choice. The speed and range will be transformational and essential for the long lines of evacuation we expect to be faced with on the LSCO battlefield. The Indopacific also presents unique challenges that FLRAA will be able to overcome. The cabin is also larger than what we currently have, with increased space for patient treatment. We’re excited and eager to get to work on getting the specific MEDEVAC systems right.

MECCD has enjoyed presenting lifetime DUSTOFF Association memberships to the highest GPA 67J per flight school class. We have recently extended this honor to the top graduate of the Flight Paramedic course, as well. Special thanks to Collins Aerospace for continuing to make this possible.

The frustrating part of this year has been the uncertainty. There’s a bit of uncertainty that’s expected in our line of work, but these modernization efforts take so much time and planning, that any interruption to funding or priorities can have a downstream effect. There are also the evolving threats from our adversaries. We want to ensure that our efforts support the concepts of how we imagine future conflict, and we can clear the battlefield of casualties, despite the threat.

We’ll continue working on our major efforts, while continuing to experiment with autonomous systems, drones, Artificial Intelligence, and much more.

MECCD has been involved in much more this year, but if I went to every important event or effort, this newsletter would be more like a book. Just know that MECCD is continuing to influence the enterprise down and in, and up and out. We spend a lot of time inserting ourselves into meetings, conferences, summits, etc., to make sure MEDEVAC has a voice. We look to 2024 and the uncertain landscape with determination, confidence, and with a team of professionals dedicated to the core to look out for the current and future generations. I hope to see you all at the reunion! DUSTOFF!

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