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Evacuation Team Carries Wounded Warriors Home

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany, April 26, 2011 – By many accounts, 20-year-old Army Spc. Dustin Morrison is a living miracle – and a testament to the military medical system that’s getting medical care to wounded warriors and moving them to progressively advanced levels of care faster than ever before.

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Kelli Pedersen looks on as Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Worsham, a respiratory technician with the critical care air transport team, prepares her son, Army Spc. Dustin Morrison, for an aeromedical evacuation flight from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 26, 2011, for follow-on care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. DOD photo by Donna Miles

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Morrison, an Iowa Army National Guardsman, was severely wounded April 11 when his mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province.

Army Spc. Brent Maher, the vehicle gunner, was killed, and two other members of the Iowa Guard’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, were injured in the attack.

When Morrison’s mother, Kelli Pedersen, flew to Germany after her son was flown here, the staff at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center laid it on the line about his prognosis. “They told me how very close we came to losing him,” she said. His lungs were so severely damaged from the blast that the staff put him into a medically induced coma.

But after fighting for his life, Morrison made a breakthrough when began breathing independently two days ago, she said. And two weeks after being wounded, he was declared stable enough to transport for long-term care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Raymond Fang has seen miracles like Morrison’s every day for the past seven years as director of trauma care at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Battlefield casualties are getting medical treatment faster and closer to the point of injury

than ever before, he told reporters.

Thanks to advanced aeromedical evacuation procedures, he said, patients now typically arrive at Landstuhl for advanced care within three days of being wounded.

And despite what Fang acknowledged have become increasingly devastating combat injuries, he said 2010 statistics show that patients who arrive at Landstuhl have better than a 99 percent survival rate.

“That is really unprecedented,” he said. “So if you are young and you get early care and you can go through our paradigm of staged care and be rapidly evacuated here, it seems to be effective. … You have a greater than 99 percent chance of survival if you can make it to us.”

Pederson reflected on the medical care her son has received as she watched two oversized ambulances deliver her son and 40 other wounded warriors to a hulking C-17 Globemaster III aircraft on the tarmac here

“I can’t even express how well they have taken care of him,” she said of the staff. “They have been so professional, every step of the way. But beyond that, they have been very honest. They’ve been able to take down their guard and be real with us, which has been so important in helping us through this process.”

Now, as Morrison was about to move on for advanced care at Walter Reed, Pedersen surveyed the bustle as the 86th Airlift Wing’s aeromedical evacuation team finalized the aircraft to receive the patients. With Air Force Capt. Anna Cho, a flight nurse serving as medical crew director for the mission, calling the shots, the team made final checks that the litter stanchions were secure and the tubes, cables and wires were properly connected to the medical equipment.

Then, the team worked with choreographic precision as they began hoisting litters from the ambulance and carrying the patients one by one aboard the aircraft and preparing them for the nine-hour flight to Washington.

“We do everything we can to take care of their needs,” said Air Force Senior Airman Brian Fox. “The biggest challenge is staying on top of the pain curve, especially because of the vibration. We make them as comfortable as we possibly can.”

Morrison, along with two of the other most critical patients, was the last to be carried aboard the aircraft, where the aeromedical evacuation team secured his litter into stanchions just a foot from his mother’s jump seat.

Members of a highly specialized critical care air transport team went to work, ensuring he was secured as they hooked up a ventilator and medical equipment they would use to monitor his condition throughout the flight.

Each three-member critical care air transport team includes a physician, critical-care nurse and respiratory technician. They’re trained to treat patients suffering from the most severe injuries, and they’re armed with about 750 pounds of high-tech medical equipment that essentially turns an aircraft into a flying intensive-care unit.

“What we do is ensure they have the same level of care as when they were in the ICU at Landstuhl,” explained Air Force Maj. Kirk Hinkley, the critical-care physician for today’s flight. “That’s the whole purpose of a team like this: to ensure there is no step down in care” while the patient is transported.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Worsham, the team’s respiratory technician, knew he would keep particularly busy monitoring Morrison during the flight. “We’re going to keep an eye on his vitals, make sure the equipment is operating properly and that his sedation levels are right,” he said.

Worsham said he felt particularly grateful to be able to meet his patient’s mother. “That makes this special. You don’t always get to meet everyone’s parents,” he said.

As the ramp raised and the aircraft engines fired up, Worsham knew he was in for a long, demanding mission – but he said he wouldn’t trade the opportunity to care for Morrison and his fellow wounded warriors for anything in the world.

“It’s an honor to be able to do this,” he said. “I feel lucky having the pleasure of taking care of these guys who have served their country and made all these sacrifices. I have the best job in the Air Force.”


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAeromedical evacuation and critical care air transport team members prepare Army Spc. Dustin Morrison, an Iowa Army National Guardsman severely wounded by an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan, for an April 26, 2011, flight from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to Washington for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn aeromedical evacuation crew carries wounded warriors aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft April 26, 2011, for a flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to receive advanced-level care in the United States. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn aeromedical evacuation crew makes final checks on wounded warriors aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft before an April 26, 2011, flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to receive advanced-level care in the United States. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Senior Airman Brian Fox prepares ventilation equipment for an aeromedical evacuation flight from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to Andrews Air Force, Md., April 26, 2011. DOD photo by Donna Miles  
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Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

4/28/2011 9:00:06 PM
Kelli, I just wanted you to know that you are all in our prayers. May your hearts be assured of the promises of Jesus. Our son, Jake is a team leader from the same unit as Dustin. May the troops who are grieving be reminded of God's Sovereign plan. May Jesus be glorified even in this! It is my prayer that Dustin will be a living testimony of Jesus' love and grace. I love you dear sister, Bonnie Jaeckle
- Bonnie Jaeckle, Diagonal, IA

4/28/2011 8:28:19 AM
We are friends of the familys, and just wanted to say a big Thank You for saving Dustin's life. All of us back home are still praying for Dustin , his family , all the other soldiers, and the medical team there!!! Thanks again!! "God Bless the USA"
- Dave and Lori Madison, New Market,Ia

4/27/2011 7:04:05 PM
I am a brother to Dustin, not in the normal terms of "brother" but a brother in arms. He was my bunk mate in Afghanistan. Its great to see that my little buddy is fighting his way through all of this. That is the heart of Dustin going to work! Love ya little buddy! see you as soon as I can!
- Spc JD Dirksen, Afghanistan

4/27/2011 1:35:30 PM
I am a familyfriend of Dustin Morrison and want to say THANK YOU to everyone who's been involved in helping save his life. Not only is he a very sweet and special young man, but I am close friends with all of his family. We are from a very small farming community and everyone knows each other. When this happened, it happened to ALL of us !!!! We are all seeing first hand the POWER OF PRAYER .... along with the fantastic doctors and nurses involved. God Bless the USA !!!! Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. Kathryn Hakes
- Kathryn Louise Hakes, New Market, Iowa USA

4/27/2011 12:11:41 AM
Just a note to thank you for bringing us up to date on the condition of the wounded soldiers. Still shaken but the deaths of three of the team, it is comforting to know that Dustin Morrison and those like him, are receiving immediate and outstanding attention. My daughter is a medic with the 113th CAV Alpha and trained with some of those now serving in Germany. I know they are dedicated to providing the very best for their wounded brothers and sisters. Thanks again for this update.
- Flora Nichols, Arizona, USA

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