Airman saved lives 'the right way'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Madelyn Brown
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Last December, Senior Airman Cody Nuñez, 21st Airlift Squadron, spent two weeks in Entebbe, Uganda providing humanitarian care to the war-torn Central African Republic.

"We were there to support the Contingency Response Group by setting up security operations and providing resources such as power generators," said the C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster. "On the last day, the whole crew was packed up and ready to return home."

Anticipating spending the holidays in the United States, the pilots prepared for take-off. Just as the jet's throttles were about to be pushed up, the flight home was halted.

"We were asked to download cargo to accommodate for three patients," Nuñez said. "We still weren't aware of the details of the situation, but we turned around and went back into parking. I knew that we would need to download about two pallets and 10 of our passengers to accommodate the patients and medics."

Still in a fog of uncertainty, the crew turned the C-17 around. Upon returning to the parking ramp, Nuñez witnessed three CV-22 Ospreys scattered with bullet holes and struggling to land on the flight line.

"Of the three Ospreys, one was shot up pretty bad," the Washington native said. "It was spewing smoke and limping even as it was landing. We still had not been told what happened."

Nuñez would later learn the three tilt rotor aircraft had suffered from small arms fire while flying over South Sudan to evacuate American citizens, he said.

From the damaged aircraft, the patients in critical condition emerged along with an Army special forces captain.

The captain gave the 23-year-old loadmaster two options: Either put the ramp all the way down and release the locks on the pallets, or perform a combat offload immediately.

"I had to tell him no," Nuñez said. "Not only is it against regulations but it would also cause further delays. I had to let him know he could trust me; this is what I've been trained for. I told him I could do this as fast as possible and that we were going to get these guys on board. I said, 'We have to do this the right way because now, of all times, we cannot fail.' "

As Nuñez could hear the conscious service members in pain, he moved to action and climbed over vehicles to the front of the aircraft, and had the pallets downloaded within minutes.

"The entire cargo space was packed wall to wall with passengers, a couple tractor trailers, a forklift and other gear," he said. "We were at maximum cargo."

He worked with three other loadmasters. As Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Pickens operated the ramp, Senior Airman River Schell and Senior Airman Alexander Moncrief set up the litter stantions and kept the other passengers on board calm. The engines remained on and the aircraft began taxiing as soon as the patients were in place.

"While we were taxiing, one of the patients began to flat line, and the medic let me know that he needed ground support," Nuñez said. "I let the pilots know to hold the take-off, and I assisted the medic with blankets and whatever else he needed."

When the patient was stabilized, the C-17 was able to take off and begin its 45-minute flight to Nairobi, Kenya where the patients would receive further medical attention.

"The patient flat lined again while in-flight," Nuñez said. "This time the medic used the AED (automated external defibrillator) and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to bring him back."

Upon landing in Nairobi, Nuñez disconnected the cargo chains, and helped carry one of the litters to the ambulance, he said.

For his actions, Nuñez has been selected to receive the General P.K. Carlton Award for Valor from the Airlift Tanker Association. Nominations for the award are based on demonstrated courage, strength, determination, bravery, and fearlessness during combat, contingency or humanitarian mission. He is scheduled to receive the award during the Airlift Tanker Association Annual Convention from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2.

"My biggest concern the entire time was safety," he said. "Everyone on the crew was definitely part of the same team. Without them, we couldn't have gotten everything done as quickly, which was crucial."