Saving lives can be costly on or off the battlefield. Last month, a US Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan lost a leg and an arm when a grenade exploded in “close quarters combat.” (Fox) An “almost impossible mission” to bring him home was costly, but thanks to a personnel, from the field medics to the surgeons, to the US Air Force, that Special Forces soldier has a fighting chance.
A recent order for all assault forces to carry units of blood on the battlefield was the first step. Then the surgeons at Bagram Airbase performed surgery to stabilize him. At least 100 personnel stood in line to give blood for their friend (ended up a total of 26 gallons of blood was needed). Then the US Air Force jumped in to begin transport home. Home to Texas…8,000 miles away. The “almost impossible” mission.
The crew of the C-17, dubbed REACH 797, flew from Germany to Afghanistan to pick up the critically wounded soldier. It took 2 nighttime mid-air refuelings to get the soldier home… a total of 24,000 gallons of fuel.
Eighteen medical personnel were involved in this operation – it was likely a CCATT (Critical Care Air Transport Team) that monitored the soldier on the way home. CCATT teams include a specialized doctor, a critical care nurse, and a respiratory therapist, plus medical equipment. But the flight crew is always aware of the urgency of the situations.
“There was quite a bit of critical urgency to this,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Hathaway, the C-17 loadmaster. “You could hear in their voice the stress of the pilots when they were calculating the fuel.”
C-17 crew chief Staff Sgt. Terrance Williamson said there was no question the flight was a high priority.
“We knew we had to get this done,” he told Fox News. “We could make this almost impossible mission happen.”
Nineteen hours after taking off from Afghanistan, the C-17 landed in San Antonio to transport the soldier to Brooke Army Medical Center. The Air Force flight crew had completed their mission without breaking the sacred oath among U.S. forces in combat.
Though the commander, Major Dan Kudlacz, had never experienced this kind of thing in his career, it’s not the first time something like this has occurred. We previously reported that the crew of a C-17 had to violate diplomatic protocol when their patient destabilized before they were able to reach the US. They had to land without clearance in Ireland.
This time, the C-17 made it home. The soldier they transported was still in critical condition as of Friday.
“You can expect that we, being the United States military, are going to do everything that we can in our power and we are going to spare no expense to bring you home.” Maj. Dan Kudlacz, Commander, REACH 797
Featured photo: Screenshot of medical team on board a C-17 via FOX from US Air Force