One man's ordeal brings focus to mission

  • Published
  • By By Tech. Sgt. Mitch Gettle
  • 320th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
An Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker crew evacuated a merchant mariner to a forward-deployed location for surgery after his leg was amputated in an accident while his ship was leaving port in the Arabian Gulf.

George Benson, 2nd mate on the USN Watson, was transported to the port city's hospital after a messenger line caught his ankle and amputated his right leg. After medics gave him blood and stabilized him, they brought him to a field clinic for a forward-deployed U.S. base. From there, the KC-135 crew transported Benson to the 320th Expeditionary Medical Group's hospital for immediate surgery.

"It had been more than six hours since the amputation when Mr. Benson arrived," said Maj. (Dr.) James Keeney, 320th Expeditionary Medical Squadron orthopedic surgeon. "The main goal was to stop the bleeding and clean the wound to prevent infection."

Even though the operation could not save his leg, it did aid in saving his life.

"This whole operation and the existence of such a place as this in a far off land, is the only thing that saved my life," said Benson. "One of my wishes is that someday I could bring my family here to meet the people responsible for saving my life, but I know that may not be possible under these conditions."

Benson sees everyone involved as heroes; not only those in the 320th Air Expeditionary Wing, but also the host nation, his crew mates, the crew and medics on the KC-135.

But, he mentions he almost did not make it here.

"I can tell you my first thought was I wanted to die, I told one of the crew to give me a gun so I can shoot myself," said Benson. "But this group here, with their professionalism and outstanding care has influenced me to look at my life (differently), more (positively)."

Looking back to the first moments of the ordeal, Benson still had a presence of mind.

"I was lying in my own blood. I could see it, one-half inch deep, and I knew I was dead," Benson said. "I radioed the captain to tell my wife and children that I will always love them."

Benson has two very young boys and that thought hit home with him.

"I don't know how I can support them at this time -- playing catch or teaching them how to sail," Benson said as tears welled his eyes. "But, I do know this, the people here have given me hope, told me about ways to overcome this, and I will."

Hope and the everlasting will of someone to see something through to the end, George Benson has it and has shown it to the people here.

"He really touched us all with his remarkable strength in handling this situation," said Keeney. "I think it was clear to members of our staff that there are more than uniformed members of the armed forces around the world making sacrifices for the freedoms we enjoy at home."

To show their appreciation from the inspiration and courage Benson displayed, the 320th EMEDS presented Benson a U.S. flag, which was flown over Afghanistan on Sept. 11, a certificate, a 320th EMEDS T-shirt and a wing coin.

"Sometimes, we wonder why we are here and what's our purpose," said Col. Suzanne Hansen, 320th EMDG commander, as she presented Benson the gifts. "We now know. We are here for you -- you are our hero."

With a grin and as his eyes welled with tears, Benson quietly said, "Nah, I think you have that the other way around."