An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Wounded warriors find comfort at Andrews AFB

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt, Shayne Sewell
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Dedicated nurses, doctors and medical technicians; a premier medical facility; caring civilian volunteers; and a clean bed are the comforts wounded soldiers have to look forward to when they arrive here to the 79th Aeromedical Staging Flight.

Patients like U.S. Army Pfc. Kenneth Adkins, Bravo Troop, 101st Airborne Division, sat silently in a wheelchair waiting to be boarded to an ambus and ultimately aboard the C-130 that will take him back to Fort Campbell, Ky.

Wounded patients leave the war zone in Iraq and are transported to Germany for immediate critical care needs. Once stabilized, the patients make the flight here where they are greeted by the professional medical technicians, doctors, nurses and Red Cross volunteers assigned to the 79th ASF.

This small 36-bed medical facility, located adjacent to Malcolm Grow Medical Center, houses big responsibility. Four ambulance buses are on standby at all times and can hold up to 12 litters each. The 79th ASF consists of active-duty Air Force members as well as Air Force Reserve Command reservists from the 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, who volunteered to "deploy" to this active-duty unit. The team works 24 hours a day, seven days a week stabilizing and providing care to wounded warriors such as Private Adkins.

Private Adkins is a Calvary scout in Iraq with 19 Delta, a reconnaissance unit, which is essentially the first in and last out. He and his comrades tried to get stored ground water to concerned local citizens on a quiet Monday in February.

"It was a routine day," Private Adkins said. "We loaded up the trucks and headed out."

The private continued that while driving through the city streets of Balad, four men suddenly appeared and threw hand grenades under their Humvee.

"If it weren't for the two-inch armored plate attached to the underside of the humvee, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you right now," he said.

The Lexington, Ky., native's feet were tingling after the grenade hit. Procedure called for the "hit" convoy to get out of the kill zone immediately. Private Adkins heard the bleeding driver screaming at him to grab his weapon and shoot the men who ambushed them. As Private Adkins tried to move for his rifle, he couldn't feel his feet.

"They felt like hamburger," he said. "But I grabbed my rifle and slammed the Humvee door closed."

The force of the grenade blast blew the Humvee door wide open, leaving the five occupants inside open to enemy fire by the Iraqis who attacked them. The injured driver drove the Humvee out of the kill zone and back to base about 25 meters away. The other Humvees in the caravan dismounted and blasted the Iraqi soldiers.

"The Iraqis who attacked us knew they were going to die that day," said Private Adkins, who suffered from a compound fractured right heel, broken toes and severe soft tissue damage to both his ankles. Sporting a "Wounded Warrior Project" ski hat, Private Adkins, bound to a wheelchair, faces months of physical therapy, and is hoping to be discharged from the Army and return to his former job in Kentucky, where he works for Toyota.

Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen pass through the 79th ASF with injuries ranging from critical blast injuries to non-blast injuries as well as non-battle injuries such as sports injuries. The patients take a short 24-48 stop at the 79th ASF prior to making the long trip home. Most patients remain overnight before being transported on a C-17, C-130, KC-135, C-5, or KC-10. The flight crews and aircraft are a mix of active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard members.

"It's an intricate part of the aeroevacuation system," said Master Sgt. Tracy Roberts, 79th ASF assistant superintendent of nursing services and 459th ASTS medical technician.

There are also Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard non-medical permanent party members assigned to the 79th ASF to tend to patients' needs and help keep them comfortable.

The Army Emergency Relief provides everything the patient wants, said U.S. Army Master Sgt. L.M. Van Arsdale, deputy team chief for the U.S. Army Military District of Washington's Medical Evacuation to CONUS Hospitals. "If someone needs something, we provide it, whether it be phone cards, socks, shoes, sweats ...whatever they need," he said.

Red Cross volunteers designed the "Maryland Room" within the 79th ASF for patients to relax. The large entertainment room has donated recliners, couches, chairs, computer terminals with free high speed internet; a fully stocked kitchen with snacks and drinks; books, magazines, and a big screen television. Red Cross volunteers come in twice a week to keep the kitchen stocked. The most valuable item each wounded warrior receives from the Red Cross volunteers is their own homemade lap quilt to take home.

The dedicated Airmen of the 79th ASF help wounded soldiers like Private Adkins enjoy a more bearable flight home. Keeping their wounds clean and keeping them stabilized for the flight home is crucial. Private Adkins left here in a wheelchair with his legs covered by a homemade quilt. Carefully placed on a litter by "deployed" 459th ASTS medical technicians, Private Adkins was loaded onto a C-130, headed for home to Kentucky left with injuries he will hopefully heal from and memories of war he will no doubt ever forget.