06/28/09 — Air Mobility Command brings heroes to get care

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Air Mobility Command brings heroes to get care

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 28, 2009 2:00 AM

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Col. Fritz Linsenmeyer

Col. Fritz Linsenmeyer has been flying KC-135 Stratotankers for years, but it took a short tour in January 2008 for him to realize just what it means to be a part of the "big picture" war effort American forces are currently engaged in across two desert theaters.

He was the pilot on an aero-medical evacuation mission -- one that involved multiple seven-hour flights between Germany and Afghanistan.

"You know, when you refuel a fighter jet and it goes off and drops a bomb, you never hear about that. ... Most of the time, you refuel an F-15 and he goes and drops a bomb on the forehead of the bad guys and that's business as usual," he said. "You're doing your job and he's doing his job and, really, you don't expect a pat on the back.

"But in this case, when you see (injured troops) from Point A to Point B, knowing that you're making a difference to that person's well-being and health, that's very rewarding."

So when the 916th Air Refueling Wing commander sent a KC-135 crew back to the desert Saturday, he did so with great pride.

A nine-airman detail from the wing left Seymour Johnson this weekend, stopping at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to pick up an aero-medical evacuation team, en route to war.

And their mission, Linsenmeyer said, is critical.

"When I was recruited, nobody said to me, 'If you're injured, we are going to give you the best medical care as quickly as possible,'" Linsenmeyer said. "But now, what I can say to those mothers and fathers out there is that the 916th and the KC-135 guarantee their sons and daughters the best medical care."

The same could not be said before the turn of the century.

In fact, Linsenmeyer was stationed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., when military officials started to entertain the idea of using the Stratotanker -- an aircraft primarily used for refueling fighter jets -- for aero-medical evacuation missions.

"They looked at several different aircraft and chose the 135," he said. "It has long legs, a cargo area and we have a lot of them."

During the upcoming deployment, as was the case for Linsenmeyer last year, the crew will travel round-trip from Germany to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, several times, where it will load and transport wounded troops out of theater.

The patients are generally accompanied by an escort, he added, and receive treatment in flight from the National Guard medical team from Andrews.

"It's about a 24-hour day, from the time you show until the time you get back," Linsenmeyer said. "You're no kidding making a difference."

The colonel recalls a particular story that unfolded last year -- one he heard and recounts as a way to motivate those under his command.

A soldier was severely injured and those around him feared he might go blind without immediate care.

So a C-17 was sent to pick him up.

"They put him on the airplane and flew him non-stop to Walter Reed (Army Medical Center)," Linsenmeyer said. "Truly amazing."

And it is that level of commitment to those troops on the ground that makes this mission so worthwhile.

"I don't remember the exact statistics, but somewhere I read it used to take 45 days to get someone from Vietnam back to the States. In Desert Storm and Desert Shield it went down to 10. Here, I think we're at three days or less, and in the case of that young man, 24 hours or less."

The scene on the ground at Bagram will offer the airmen a new perspective, too, he added.

"Everybody has a weapon. Some have two," Linsenmeyer said. "This is like the wild, wild west. You're like two miles from Indian country. But, still, it's a great mission."

The 916th falls under the umbrella of the Tanker Airlift Control Center and Air Mobility Command -- entities that keep aircraft like the KC-135 in skies across the world at all times.

"AMC flies something like one takeoff and landing every 90 seconds. What a tremendous capability that is," Linsenmeyer said. "All over the world, it doesn't matter, we have assets that are available to get those troops where they need to be as quickly as possible."

So don't expect the commander to have any second thoughts about sending his airmen to the desert.

He knows just how rewarding the experience will be -- both for them and the young men and women they are deploying in support of.

"As a parent, knowing that someone has your kids' best interests at heart, I think would take a load of worries off. We are going to do our very best to ensure that whoever they are, we take care of them," Linsenmeyer said. "We may never see that person again, but that is somebody's mother or father; husband or wife; son or daughter. Soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, we will get them where they need to be to get their medical care."

And he knows the aircraft he has always seen as a refueler will get the job done in this role -- just as it did a year ago when he was charged with getting it in and out of the desert.

"Here, you've got this 50-year-old tanker moving patients to where they need to be," he said. "I don't think (they) knew, when (they) built the KC-135 50 years ago, that it would ever be thought of as a wounded troop transport kind of thing. But boy, the airplane has evolved."