After some time in the back of the C-17 sitting with patients, I went to the cockpit to talk with the pilot, looking at glowing instruments, occasionally seeing another jet streak by in the night, its ice trail glistening off the moonlight. Peering out the windows at the stars above, I remembered reading once that on a clear night a naked eye can make out roughly 2,000 individual stars. I wondered if it were true.
We glided down through the German night, where a large group of staff waited on the tarmac to load the patients into buses. During the bus ride to the hospital, electronic monitors beeped, IVs dripped, and the patients’ litters were jostled by the road. The ambulatory among us steadied the patients, to protect them from further pain.
Once at the hospital, the back of the bus was opened and we handed down the patients to volunteers and medical staff. Those sick and wounded who were able to communicate were greeted by liaison representatives from their service branches. Over the next couple of days, I saw these liaisons doing exemplary if inglorious duty, completing the paperwork that attends any and all aspects of military existence, making sure patients understood their options and advocating for services or resources.
The system for treating wounded soldiers and civilians is an example of the military at its best: the CSHs around Iraq, the “Mercy Flight” to Landstuhl, and then the Landstuhl staff itself, was among the best. It always amazes me that a soldier who is wounded in some strange Iraqi village in the morning, through a system of fast ground transport and aircraft, is in a top medical facility possibly before midnight on the same day. The first-class treatment and service for the patients, at every step of the way, has long been a source of both pride and controversy. (...)
Over the next couple of days in Landstuhl, dozens of wounded soldiers told their stories, and although soldiers can complain about most anything, no one had a single serious complaint about the treatment they’d received from the medical teams.
Much has been written about the excellent medical staff at Landstuhl, but very little about the "exemplary if inglorious" work of the liaisons (LNOs). The LNOs are among SA Germany's closest contacts and biggest "customers" at the hospital, and I have witnessed their dedication and long hours firsthand for years.
As Michael mentions, the LNOs meet their patients at the bus when they arrive from Ramstein AB, make sure they have comfort items like clothing and phone cards, handle paperwork between the units downrange, the hospital, and the Rear D and receiving medical facility back home.
They drive patients from the hospital to the Medical Hold if they are ambulatory, track baggage, do travel orders - a million things.
They often work 7 days a week (because flights come in every day) for the entire duration of their unit's deployment. The medevac planes, such as this "Mercy Flight", may arrive at any time of day or night.
It's a very tough job, for a lot of reasons along with the obvious ones, and I'm grateful to Michael for highlighting their service. These guys are my heroes.