All hands on deck; Soldier rescued from Pacific Ocean

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aubree Owens
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs

A team of U.S. Air Force Airmen load an airdrop bundle of medical supplies onto a U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules, call sign “KANTO 92,” assigned to 36th Airlift Squadron deployed from Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, July 25, 2021. Members from U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard worked together to provide lifesaving assistance to a U.S. Army Soldier after the individual sustained an injury while at sea on an Army Watercraft System during Exercise Forager 21.

Rain is pouring down on and around the island of Guam after a monsoon hits early Sunday morning, July 26. For those in nearby waters, waves are crashing all around them. In the midst of all the commotion, a Soldier on a U.S. Army Watercraft System off the coast of Angaur, Palau, requires urgent medical attention and the Army medical team on the watercraft makes a call to U.S. Army I Corps Headquarters, forward located at Andersen Air Force Base, for assistance.

The Soldier was participating in Exercise Forager 21, a U.S. Army Pacific exercise designed to test and refine the Army personnel within the theater’s ability to flow land power forces into the theater, execute command and control of those forces, and effectively employ them in the Second Island Chain.

The immediate course of action would be to dispatch the closest rotary wing aircraft capable of delivering urgent medical support to the injured service member, which is typically the U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25. But with unclear skies, heavy rain and the distances involved, the team was unsure they would be able to land on the ship and save the patient. Meanwhile, Col. Joseph Hudak, I Corps Command Surgeon, developed a backup plan to airdrop medical supplies.

“We had a critically injured Soldier being cared for by an Army combat medic," Hudak said. "That highly capable medic could keep the Soldier alive while rescue efforts continued, but he needed additional supplies."

Therefore, Airmen, Soldiers, Seamen and Coast Guardsmen began to work together.

“I answered the call and sprang into action,” said Air Force Maj. Alex Brown, 36th Medical Group pharmacy flight commander.

After conversing with the Army combat medic on the ship, Brown joined Hudak to refine the plan of action along with members from Naval Hospital Guam to build a set of antibiotics and pain medications to drop to the watercraft and assist the member while still at sea, if HSC-25 was unable to land and medically evacuate the patient.

“We didn’t know who the patient was, but we knew their condition and what the Army combat medic on the ship would need to help them,” said Brown. “I worked quickly and safely because I knew it was imperative to get these lifesaving medications to the patient.”

Three sets of medication were gathered so the team dropping the package would have enough chances to get it onto or near the ship. The medications were chosen and gathered at the naval hospital, which had the proper supplies to aid the individual. The supplies were then transported to Andersen AFB where a team was on standby to bundle and load the supplies onto the aircraft.

Meanwhile, an Air Force C-130J Super Hercules deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan, had just landed after doing a training mission, and quickly began to refuel to take off again. This C-130J crew became the lead command and control for the response.

A joint team loaded another Air Force C-130J within 90 minutes. The team consisted of 36th Contingency Response Squadron members, Soldiers from 1st Special Forces Group and an 82nd Airborne Division rigging team, and a Navy Special Warfare Command unit, which provided parachutes for the drop of medical supplies.

“The real-time coordination between the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy allowed for the lifesaving recovery of the injured Soldier,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Massie, 36th Airlift Squadron commander.

After the command and control C-130J located the ship with the injured Soldier, the crew performed on-scene commander duties and then passed it over to a U.S. Coast Guard C-130H Hercules once they arrived at the scene.

The other C-130J was prepared to make the drop at engine start when they were notified that the HSC-25 helicopter found a break in the weather and the crew was able to load the patient. The patient was safely transported to Naval Hospital Guam, where he received care and is now in stable condition.

“The real heroes of this mission were all our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and other joint partners behind the scenes working to ensure we were prepared for life-saving operations, and the helicopter crew with HSC-25 who overcame very challenging weather conditions in order to save this individual’s life,” Massie said. “This has been one of the most rewarding missions I have been a part of. Working cohesively with joint partners to achieve mission success makes me proud to be an Airman and humbled to command this team.”