By Maj. Michael Meridith
18th Air Force
As members of the greatest military on the planet, we recognize and honor those who are willing to make great sacrifices in the cause of freedom. On Saturday in the same place that the American republic was born, I was privileged to come face to face with a group of Libyan fighters who had made those sacrifices.
At the request of the Department of State, the Secretary of Defense had directed two medical assistance missions in Libya. In the first mission, four wounded fighters were transported to medical facilities in Europe by a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
A C-17 Globemaster III aircraft assigned to the 172nd Airlift Wing out of Jackson, Miss., carried out the second mission, landing at Boston Logan International Airport in the midst of a massive winter storm after a nearly 13-hour flight from Libya. As the senior Air Force representative sent to the location, I had the honor of greeting the flight.
The Libyan Transitional National Council had requested the transport of fighters to American medical facilities because their injuries could not be treated in Libya. This is a testament to the esteem in which American medical professionals are held. This esteem holds true for the unsung aeromedical evacuation (AE) professionals that ensured the safe, comfortable transport of these wounded warriors.
I saw that esteem firsthand in the emotional hugs and handshakes shared between the Libyans and the AE crew as the patients departed. In those farewells I saw more than just a physician-patient relationship; I saw respect between two groups of individuals who had made the conscious decision to put everything on the line for the cause of freedom.
We often speak of how air mobility “answers the call” and “delivers hope.” AE crews are hard at work across the globe every single day, answering those calls and saving lives, whether thousands in the case of major humanitarian crises or the 22 that debarked the aircraft at Logan. These professionals will humbly tell you, as one did that evening, “we’re here to help out … that’s what we’re called to do. We bring the guys back safely.”
While their modesty does them credit, it’s important to recognize the contribution of AE professionals is far-reaching. In fact, these experts have conducted more than 179,000 patient movements and 36,000 sorties since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003. That averages out to nearly 12.4 potentially life-saving missions a day.
While no one can predict exactly what the future of Libya holds, I wonder what the wounded warriors will think about America when they return home. I don’t doubt they will be thankful for the care they received, but I wonder if they will also recognize that at least part of that care was provided by warriors like themselves … linked by a common bond: the willingness to sacrifice for freedom.
Photo: U.S. Air Force aeromedical evacuation crews, along with local emergency medical personnel, assist Libyan fighters off of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft at Boston Logan Airport Oct. 29. At the request of the Department of State and directed by the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. military is supporting U.S. and international medical assistance efforts in Libya. Specifically, the U.S. Air Force transported 22 wounded Libyans to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem, Mass. (Photo by Walter Santos)