Earlier in the week, the bodies of seven U.S. soldiers killed in heavy fighting in Eastern Afghanistan landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. It’s the last stop before they reached U.S. soil
Now, the second wave of casualties is here in Germany. This time, the wounded. Nine coalition soldiers injured in Operation Anaconda landed on the Ramstein flight-line just after 10 p-m Wednesday night.
Shielding their faces from both the media and the cold and rainy weather, medical specialists quickly loaded the wounded on to waiting ambulances. Since most of the wounded soldiers belong to special operations forces, the last thing they want is publicity, so blankets were placed over their faces.
Among the ten patients on board the medical relief flight is a civilian journliast, Toronto Star reporter Kathleen Kenna. She was attacked by Al-Queda and Taliban forces over the weekend while covering Operation Anaconda.
This special medevac mission is a joint effort with the 75th Airlift Squadron and the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, both based at Ramstein. Their mercy mission takes flight on board a transformed Air Force C-9 aircraft, dubbed the Nightingale.
Routine flights on board the C-9 include transporting patients with long-term or serious illnesses. Bringing troops back from the front lines of war is a job that all the specialists, right up to the pilots of the aircraft, train for, but don’t often get to carry out. That’s why this mission takes on a special sense of duty in America’s War on Terrorism.
“This is why I’m in uniform,” says Air Force Captain Chuck Wheeler, a flight nurse on board the Nightingale.
“I played the game on the civilian side, I’ve played the game on the military side, and I’m back again so I can do things like this right here… to take care of people that wear the uniform and go out there and protect you and me and they make sure that I’m safe at night.”
It’s that sort of personal connection that makes the job hit home to the crew on the Nightingale.
“When they get hurt, I wanna have the education, ability, and opportunity to go get these guys,” says Captain Wheeler, fighting back fatigue after just completing the flight.
“I want to show them that I can take care of these guys.”
The crew on board the Nightingale brought the wounded to Germany from a staging area at Injirlick Air Base in Turkey. They’re brought to Turkey to be stabilized, and prepared for transport.
The next stop after the flight-line at Ramstein is the Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility not far from the air base. There, they’ll receive advanced medical attention and spend time recovering from wounds sustained in combat.
With the fighting still underway in Eastern in Afghanistan, these medevac crews remain on alert, in the event there’s more casualties in a battle the Defense Department says “will continue as long as the Taliban don’t surrender, or until they’re all dead.”
Kane Farabaugh is a 1995 graduate of Ottawa Township High School. He is currently working as a television news anchor and reporter for the American Forces Network Europe in Frankfurt Germany. He’s covered the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11th, reported from Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan during Allied attacks last fall, and has filed reports from all over the world during different assignments with several local ABC and CBS affiliates as well as the United States Air Force.