The Army's flight team of burn specialists from San Antonio, Texas, tends a severely wounded Marine pilot while they bring him home from Singapore. (Staff Sgt. Seth Holland / Army)
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These soldiers participated in the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center’s record-breaking evacuation flight:
Lt. Col. Booker T. King, deputy director of the burn center and surgeon
Capt. Michael Campbell, critical care nurse
Staff Sgt. Seth Holland, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the team and respiratory therapist
Staff Sgt. Daniel Nelson, respiratory therapist
Sgt. Mackneil Ramos, assistant NCOIC for the burn flight team and licensed vocational nurse
Sgt. Nikenson Penette, licensed vocational nurse
To serve on the burn flight team, soldiers must have one year of clinical time at the burn center and be selected above their peers.
They also must attend the Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team course, a two-week program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and meet the Air Force’s flight requirements.
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Over 9,850 miles and 19 hours inside a C-17 Globemaster, the Army's flight team of burn specialists brought a severely wounded Marine pilot home from the other side of the world.
The pilot, a Marine major whose name has not been released, suffered burns over 54 percent of his body when his CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crashed Feb. 20 in Thailand during the Cobra Gold 2013 exercise.
Three other Marines were wounded in the crash, according to the Cobra Gold Facebook page.
Within six hours of the crash, the burn flight team from the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center, the Defense Department's only burn facility, got the call to evacuate the pilot.
This mission, which would bring the team to Singapore, where the pilot was moved for further care, broke the burn center's record for the longest and farthest flight with a critically wounded patient. The previous record was about 6,000 miles.
"It was historic," said Lt. Col. Booker T. King, deputy director of the burn center and the surgeon who traveled with the team to Singapore. "It's the longest evacuation the burn flight team has done."
Since 2003, the burn flight team has completed nearly 100 missions, moving more than 350 troops, he said.
This mission to Singapore was different because of the distance and because the patient was being treated in a civilian hospital in a foreign country, King said.
The six-member team — a surgeon, a critical care nurse, two licensed vocational nurses and two respiratory therapists — was en route the morning of Feb. 22 after an initial delay because officials weren't sure if the Marine would be moved to Singapore or to Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii.
The team flew commercial to Singapore, where it quickly went to Singapore General Hospital to prepare the patient for the journey home.
"The function of the team is not only to transport the patient but also manage the patient," King said.
The patient was in "extremely critical" condition, King said.
The team loaded the Marine major, who was accompanied by his wife, into an Air Force C-17, which refueled in flight, for the long journey home.
The C-17 arrived in San Antonio at about 6 p.m. Feb. 24, and the Marine is now being cared for in the burn center's intensive-care unit.
King said the Marine is doing well.
"I'm pleased with his progress thus far," he said.
The flight team's successful mission "exemplifies the dedication of military professionals demonstrating limitless commitment to care for their brothers and sisters in arms," said Col. Evan Renz, director of the burn center.
The team is officially known as the Special Medical Augmentation Response Team-Burn, and is one of several specialized teams under Army Medical Command, King said.
The burn flight team, with its members' specialized skills, typically is called when a patient has burns on more than 40 percent of his body, severe inhalation injuries or multiple traumatic injuries, King said.
Most often, in recent years, the team has evacuated burn casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This meant a typical mission would take the flight team to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, about a 12-hour flight from San Antonio.
King credited the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Tricare and International SOS, an international health care, medical assistance and security services company, for enabling the burn flight team to get to its patient.
"A lot of agencies worked together," he said. "Without them, we wouldn't have been able to do the mission."
Staff Sgt. Seth Holland, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the burn flight team and a respiratory therapist, has participated in five flight missions. But he said this one was logistically the most complicated.
Because they didn't know what to expect at the civilian hospital in Singapore, the team members brought with them more than 1,000 pounds of equipment.
"We had to take everything with us," he said. "It was a lot of extra equipment that ended up being lifesaving once we hit the ground."