by: Diane Ako
WAHIAWA (KHNL) - A military helicopter unit from Alaska will next week pick up O'ahu's civilian medevac mission, in what military officials call a "unique" partnership between the state and military. Hawaii may be the only state in the nation to use military choppers to fly medical missions.
The Alaska unit replaces a Hawai'i Army National Guard unit that has provided stopgap service for the last nine months. It's picked up 28 civilian patients in that time. Beginning early next month, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and crews from the U.S. Army's Task Force 49, stationed at Fairbanks, Alaska, will start rapid air transport service to The Queen's Medical Center for accident victims and assist with other emergencies, Army officials announced Thursday. There will be no gap in services.
By the end of January there will be a total of 6 Blackhawks in Hawaii, on loan from Alaska. Four of them have yet to arrive on Oahu. Two are already at Pohakuloa on the Big Island.
The state reimburses the federal government about $3,500 per civilian flight. It does not have to pay for on-call time, however, for the military staff. The military flights are available from 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
The Hilo, Hawai'i-based soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation, which have been flying civilian patients on O'ahu since April 1, recently received a warning order for a 2007 Iraq deployment and now focusing on deployment training. The National Guard service was supposed to be short-lived, but the pilots and crews found their flying duties extended in July and again in September.
The arrangement with the Alaska-based unit represents another stopgap solution. A Schofield Barracks unit provided the service for free on O'ahu for three decades but that unit and its 12 Black Hawks deployed to Iraq over the summer for a year.
In its 34-year history, the Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic program transported more than 7,100 patients, flew more than 6,000 missions and saved the state nearly $90 million, the Army said. The Army has been discontinuing its MAST programs across the country as war service has picked up and civilian aeromedical contractors have been hired.