'Fear of the unknown': US medic recalls Kiwi rescue
Harrowing new details have emerged of the fight to save six New Zealand soldiers after they were caught in a gunfight in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of two others.
Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, both 26, were killed in an insurgent attack near Do Abe in Bamiyan province on August 4. Six other soldiers were wounded in the firefight - one seriously.
In a post written by US Air Force Staff Sergeant Shawn Rhodes of the 927th Air Refueling Wing, the actions of the US 45th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, which tended the injured Kiwi soldiers, have been laid bare.
Led by Captain Esma Etan, the team had been performing rescue missions every week for three months from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
"I was told the hospital was still moving five New Zealand coalition soldiers from a forward operating base after engaging in a gun fight with the enemy," Etan said.
"That fight took the lives of two of the coalition soldiers."
The US Air Force relies on aeromedical evacuation teams to move coalition forces who are injured in the field. The teams are trained to treat combat injuries in-flight while transporting patients from field hospitals to advanced medical care in Germany.
Rhodes wrote of more than just the physical injuries the New Zealand soldiers had suffered.
"Shrapnel, open chest wounds, missing limbs - they'd seen it all before. On this flight... [they] had to care for an invisible wound.
"They were afraid."
Etan said the New Zealand soldiers had sustained injuries to the chest, head, hips face and extremities, and had also survived field surgery before they got to them.
"It was not that patients were in pain, but that they were unsure as to what had happened from a medical standpoint and what would happen to them when they arrived in Germany."
The Kiwi soldiers had been through a lot, said Rhodes, but it was the "fear of the unknown" that required the most treatment.
"I remembered making rounds ... one of the coalition forces soldiers [was] trying to ask for help," said Etan.
"I walked over to him, bent down to his level and tried to understand what he was trying to say. To my surprise he was just trying to understand what had happened to him."
It has emerged that New Zealand Air Force chief Air Vice-Marshall Peter Stockwell gave personal thanks to Etan's team.
"The commitment and responsiveness of the US military has been exemplary and been a great demonstration of the strength of the relationship. So thank you most sincerely.
"It means a lot to know we have such a strong friend in times of need. Please convey our deep appreciation to all those United States Air Force personnel involved in the operation," Stockwell said.
As a result of Stockwell's letter, the US rescue team was also thanked by their own Commander of the Air Mobility Command.
"Your efforts in caring for and getting the wounded New Zealand soldiers from that same battle to higher medical care resulted in a note of thanks from the Chief of the Royal New Zealand Air Force to General Norton Schwartz," said General Raymond Johns.
"These bonds with our closest allies are forged and maintained with the grit, determination and commitment to excellence of Airmen such as yourself.
"And you do this every day. I simply cannot be more proud or thankful. It is an honour to serve with you."
- © Fairfax NZ News