SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Illinois —
Over four days, three aircraft, 18 medical specialists, more than 24,000 gallons of fuel, and 100 liters of blood were committed across an 8,000-mile journey to a single goal – saving the life of one Soldier.
In mid-August, Air Mobility Command’s 618th Air Operations Center was notified of an injured Soldier in need of urgent aeromedical evacuation out of Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Immediately, AOC Airmen started to build a mission – REACH 797 – to help save this one Soldier whose survival was in question after being critically wounded in a blast.
Within the first hours of the Soldier’s arrival to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, medical teams administered multiple blood transfusions, and a lead surgeon determined the Soldier was in need of a special team from Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
To form this team, the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group worked in concert with the Enroute Patient Staging System, known as ERPSS. This flight comes from a specialized section in the hospital with personnel who are experts in patient movement and coordinate their transport out of the area to receive more specialized care.
During those critical days following the injury, the surgical services team at Bagram performed multiple lifesaving and stabilizing surgeries. Additionally, a walking blood bank was initiated and over 100 Soldiers lined up to donate within 15 minutes of the call to ensure a sufficient supply of blood.
“Their quick work led to the patient being taken to a higher echelon of care in under 48 hours,” said Maj. Lisa Haik, 455th ERPSS Flight commander. “Overall, the actions of all involved represent just a fraction of what the CJTH can provide to our warriors.”
Twenty-four hours later, after being diverted from another mission, a Dover Air Force Base C-17 Globemaster III and its crew arrived at Bagram and immediately went into crew rest in preparation to fly a non-stop, 8,000-mile flight to San Antonio.
“We had to load up a very complex flight plan into the software on the aircraft,” said Maj. Dan Kudlacz, REACH 797 C-17 pilot and aircraft commander from Dover’s 436th Airlift Wing. “Couple that with the fact that we were flying into a combat zone, carrying 18 additional medical crew members, and transporting a critical patient whose injuries require a cabin altitude restriction. You can begin to see that there was a lot to manage from alert to liftoff.”
The next day, the Soldier was evacuated out of Afghanistan on the C-17 for the long journey home and was treated by Aeromedical Evacuation and Critical Care Air Transport Team or CCATT Airmen from the 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight, alongside an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation or ECMO team from the 59th Medical Wing at JBSA-Lackland.
“There were so many moving parts to this mission that we knew we had to get every aspect 100 percent correct the first time,” Kudlacz said. “Should one thing have fallen out of line during the flight, it could have … impacted this Soldier's life, which is something that weighed heavily on all of us when we received notification of this mission.”
During the flight, the Soldier was treated by Aeromedical Evacuation and Critical Care Air Transport Team or CCATT Airmen from the 10th EAEF, alongside an Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO team from the 59th MDW, which was prepared to assist should breathing problems arise.
Just hours into the flight from Bagram, a MacDill KC-135 Stratotanker crew was preparing for a routine mission from the tarmac at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, Great Britain, when they got the call to rendezvous with and offload more than 24,000 gallons of fuel to keep a life-saving C-17 airborne during its non-stop AE journey from Afghanistan to Texas.
“MacDill Airmen fueled the hands that heal during this critical mission,” said Col. Stephen Snelson, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander. “Days where we can flex to support our joint teammates reminds us why we signed up to serve in the first place.”
As the topped-off C-17 pulled away from the KC-135 in the skies over Europe, a second MacDill tanker crew, near Bangor, Maine was diverted to complete the air bridge to Texas.
Although refueling during an AE flight is uncommon due to the turbulence it can cause, it was necessary to ensure the Soldier reached specialized care in the United States as quickly as possible.
“This mission involved a tremendous amount of teamwork; between the skill of the aircrews operating under exhausting conditions, to our AOC planners who determined aircraft and aircrew availability, provided mission support and tailored specialized AE care en-route, and the medical professionals who provided unrivaled critical care,” said Brig. Gen. Jimmy Canlas, 618th AOC commander. “With a Soldier’s life on the line, these Airmen worked 24/7, across multiple time zones, to pull together all the pieces and ensure this Soldier made it home.”
Following the non-stop, 20-hour journey, the injured Soldier reached JBSA-Kelly Field, Texas. From there, he was transported to Brooke Army Medical Center to continue receiving life-saving care – and reunite with his family.
“Everyone working around the clock to safely bring our patriots home is awe-inspiring,” Snelson said. “This mission was a demonstration of the promises we make to care for those who serve.”
The Soldier, whose name is being withheld due to personal and family privacy, is currently receiving intensive care in San Antonio.
“The priority our military places on saving the lives of its service members is unparalleled,” said Lt Col Scott King, CCATT Chief. “REACH 797 demonstrates that for those who go into harm’s way, no expense or effort will be spared to bring them home to their families and loved ones.”