All hands on deck; Soldier rescued from Pacific Ocean

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

Rain is pouring down on and around the island of Guam after a monsoon hits early Sunday morning, July 26, 2021. For those in nearby waters, waves are crashing all around them. In the midst of all the commotion, a U.S. Army Soldier on an 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 US Army I Corps HQ forward located at Andersen AFB for assistance.

The Soldier was participating in Exercise Forager 21, which is 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, typically the U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two-Five, 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, a backup plan was developed by the I Corps Command Surgeon, Col. Joseph Hudak, to airdrop medical supplies develops as phones are dialed and begin to ring across Guam.

“We had a critically injured Soldier being cared for by an Army Combat Medic," said Hudak. "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 begin to work together.

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

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 him” 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 U.S. 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, 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, just landed after doing a training mission and quickly began to refuel after touching down in order to take back off again. This C-130J crew would then become the lead command and control for the response.

Rigged for delivery and joint airdrop inspected, another U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules, call sign “KANTO 91,” also assigned to the 36th AS, was loaded within 90 minutes by a joint team. The team consisted of 36th Contingency Response Squadron members, U.S. Army Soldiers from 1st Special Forces Group, U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division rigging team and Navy Special Warfare Command unit who 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 U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Massie, commander of 36th AS.

After “KANTO 92”, the command and control C-130J, located the ship with the injured Soldier, the crew preformed on scene commander duties and then passed it over to a U.S. Coast Guard C-130H Hercules once they arrived at the scene.

Prepared to make the drop, “KANTO 91” was 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 whom overcome very challenging weather conditions in order to save this individual’s life,” said Massie. “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.”