Airmen complete life-saving mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

After completing days of continuous flights, one 4th Airlift Squadron air crew took on a seemingly impossible mission. Tasked to transport a U.S. Navy Sailor in critical condition, Airmen from the 4th AS raced against time to get the patient suffering from injuries sustained in an IED explosion, from Baghdad to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  

The severity of the 34-year-old sailor’s wounds reduced his survival rate to two percent, requiring urgent transport from Syria to Texas. Timing was of the essence and responsive, continuous air mobility was needed to successfully transport the Sailor. Fortunately, the Airmen were prepared to assist in providing critical transport.

Arriving to Baghdad from Syria, where the accident took place, the patient required more than seven hours of surgery before departure to Ramstein AB.

The Sailor’s injuries included a torn trachea, cervical spine injury, tibia/fibula fracture and an open eye injury. Doctors also had to perform an emergency thoracotomy to manually massage the sailor’s heart before aeromedical teams arrived.

“The severity of injuries sustained by the patient were massive,” said Maj. Joshua Hamilton, Critical Care Air Transport Team physician “Many of us were shocked he survived the initial injury.”

The McChord Aircrew remained on alert while the patient was operated on. They were given 45-minutes notice to prepare for the patient’s delivery to the C-17 and prepare for departure.

“The mission was getting the Sailor the care he needed,” said Capt. Tim McCammon, 4th AS pilot and aircraft commander. “Communication was key to the success of the flight.”


The patient required constant care during the flight from numerous medical teams, which included a critical care air transport team, an extra corporeal membrane oxygenation team, and an aeromedical evacuation team.


“We were all trying to get the patient to Ramstein safely. It was our immediate goal,” said McCammon. “We remained in constant communication with the medical crew director throughout the flight and kept an open line of communication.”


Because of the patient’s sensitive condition, the air crew had to take considerable measures to accommodate him during the flight, said McCammon. The max cabin altitude couldn’t exceed a max of 5,000 feet for the well-being of the patient. This meant that the aircraft had to fly considerably lower than it would normally, which imposed new possible threats and consumed more fuel during the flight.


“We had to get the job done correctly to save his life knowing even if we did he still might not make it,” said McCammon. “So that weighed on us, but we couldn’t let that external stress effect the way we did our job.” 


Stress was high for everyone during the flight but particularly the Sailor’s partner who accompanied him, said Tech. Sgt. Brian Layton, 4th AS instructor loadmaster.


“I had to keep his partner up to speed with everything and keep him comfortable, said Layton. “I kept him engaged throughout the flight to keep his mind off his partner.”


During the seven-hour flight the aircrew worked tirelessly to ensure the patients next flight would be ready for him and could also accommodate his care needs, but this came with some extra effort according to McCammon. The aircrew used inflight satellite communications to order prescriptions for the patient and to ensure the aircraft would be serviced at Ramstein AB prior to its next flight.


“My responsibilities as aircraft commander were to ensure the safe transportation of the team and patient in and out of the combat zone,” said McCammon. “In addition to operating the aircraft, I worked with the medical crew director to ensure the crew heading back to the states had what they needed to be able to accomplish their mission.”   


Despite having transmitted more than 10 time zones in the last 48-hours prior to the flight and fighting exhaustion, the air crew performed at their finest, said McCammon.


“We are always thinking about the patient and at the same time we had to keep in mind threat maneuvering,” said McCammon. The drive to get the mission done is always there but when you have a tangible goal that you can see, it motivates you to get the mission done to the best of your ability. 


After facing plausible threats, adverse weather and challenges getting necessary diplomatic clearances, the air crew and passengers touched down at Ramstein AB. At their parking spot they had another crew waiting for them to take the aircraft and patient to Baltimore, Maryland.


“There was a general sense of relief that we had gotten him their safely,” said McCammon. “But the tone of the crew was solemn knowing things were still not looking better for the patient.”


Close to 24 hours from the time the patient was transported from Syria he safely arrived at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, in better shape than when he left, said McCammon.


“This mission shows the level of training and proficiency of our aircrew. These Airmen are superbly good at their jobs,” said McCammon. “This also highlights AMC’s (Air Mobility Command’s) rapid global mobility capabilities.”


The sailor is reported to be making a successful recovery according to medical experts at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Texas.


“It’s awesome when you can have this kind of impact and potentially save someone’s life. It resonates why what we do is so important,” said McCammon. “Sometimes you need a reminder like this.”