They are the angels of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — the nurses and doctors who save the wounded, evacuating them aboard a cavernous C-17 transport plane headed for Germany, capable of conducting mid-flight surgery if need be.
“You do not have time to cry, you do not have time to feel. You basically put those feelings in a box and you put them over on the counter,” says Air Force Lt. Col. Sherry Hemby, a 19-year veteran who went to nursing school and then joined up.
At the behemoth Bagram military base in Afghanistan, medical transport planes — essentially flying trauma centers — slam fast on the runway, always after dark, trying to avoid enemy attack.
On a recent fall night, the huge hold of an Air Force C-17 was filled with stretchers stacked three-high. There was just enough room for doctors and nurses to squeeze between life-support equipment and severely injured patients bound for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
For 10 years, aeromedical evacuation crews like this one have been ferrying war casualties out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Trisha Fulton, chief flight nurse, has made hundreds of these trips. She was waiting for her latest group of patients.
Some walk on crutches. Others are carried on stretchers.
The most critically injured are sedated and cocooned in life-support equipment. They are brought aboard last, accompanied by a critical care transport team consisting of a doctor, a nurse and a cardiopulmonary technician.
By the time the severely injured, some of them amputees, get here, they have been stabilized at Bagram’s field hospital and prepped for flight.
At Landstuhl, the receiving point for tens of thousands of wounded soldiers and Marines, surgery or rehabilitation awaits.
People who have been thrust into each other’s lives by the consequences of war began a wordless eight-hour relationship of necessity.
Read the rest of this great article, Winged Wonders. And THANK YOU to all of our aeromedical evacuation crews for all you do.