JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- As if by fate, a weather delay in Germany allowed a group of reservists to embark on a challenging 22-and-a-half-hour mission to help save a fellow service member.
On Nov. 3, 2018, a C-17 aircrew from the 315th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, who’s mission heading home from Germany was delayed due to severe weather, was asked to take on an emergency mission transporting a burn patient to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
“When our mission was delayed, everyone was a little frustrated because they had to get back to their civilian jobs,” said Capt. Dennis Conner, the mission’s aircraft commander from the 701st Airlift Squadron. “Then I get a call asking if we would stay out and take a medical evacuation mission because there was a soldier who was pretty badly burned. There was not one hesitation, the entire crew stepped up. They put their civilian lives on hold to do this; they missed work and school to get him home,” he said. “It’s what they do!”
The Army soldier was transported to Ramstein Air Base, Germany from Hungary by a U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation team and was destine for the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
According to the Daily News Hungary, “an American soldier was electrocuted at the Ferencváros railway station when he climbed up to a cargo train transporting combat vehicles.” The article also states there was an electrical line carrying 25,000 volts above the train’s cargo, potentially causing the incident. The Hungarian National Health Service also gave details of the incident, “40 percent of the man’s body suffered second and third degree burns. What is more, he seemed to have broken his femur,” said Pál Győrfy, spokesperson for the organization.
“It was an unbelievable effort. No other country in the world would go to the extent we did to help one of our warfighters,” said Capt. Bryan Chianella, one of the 701 AS pilots on the mission. “We do what we can to take care of our own.”
During the flight, the C-17 was scheduled to do an aerial refueling so it could continue to San Antonio without stopping, said Conner. “It was chaos. Ten minutes before our AR, the tanker lost one of their engines and had to turn around,” he said. “We did a lot of planning for this mission… We had several backup plans in place. We could only land in Boston or Andrews (Washington D.C.) because if our jet broke down, he needed to be close to a burn center,” explained Conner. “Since we had strong headwinds; we didn’t have enough gas to get us to Andrews, we had to try to make it to Boston.”
“It was pretty stressful,” said Chianella. “They only had enough pain meds for our original flight time plus two hours and we landed in Boston with our emergency fuel.”
With the quick stop in Boston for fuel, the crew took off for San Antonio and landed at Lackland AFB, Texas then returned to home to Charleston with no further incidents.
“This was one of those missions where you make a difference helping a brother in arms,” said Master Sgt. Glenn Walker, the flying crew chief on the mission from the 315th Maintenance Squadron. “We all came together as a team and worked like a flawless Swiss watch,” he said.
Both Conner and Chianella agreed with Master Sgt. Walker and credited the crew’s teamwork in making the mission a success. “I was very proud of the entire crew. I didn’t do anything special, the crew just did what they do and made this mission happen,” explained Capt. Connor.
Conner and his crew also flew an American flag during the mission and sent it with the medical team to be given to the soldier’s wife.
The members of the crew from the 701 AS were Conner, Chianella, Capt. James Witherspoon, Tech. Sgt. Travis Nettles, Senior Airman Dwayne Baldwin and Walker of the 315 MXS.