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Deployed NCO reflects on aeromed flight duty

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - -- At the end of his final mission downrange, Master Sgt. Daniel Kibe took a long walk around Ramstein Air Base, Germany and reflected on two months of aeromedical evacuation flights. He knew before coming home how hard it would be to put it all behind.
Between August and mid-October Sergeant Kibe escorted wounded and ill troops from Balad, Iraq and Bagram, Afghanistan to Landstuhl Medical Center, Germany. He had seen and treated men and women of all ages and conditions. He had done everything he could to help.
He wished he could have done more, he said.
Sergeant Kibe was going home to Northampton, Mass., but he expected that he would bring the war home with him. He anticipated the ripple effect of doing an aeromedical evacuation flight on average of every three days for two months.
"I won't really unwind until I get home," he said in a telephone conversation a few days before leaving Ramstein.
"It'll take a number of weeks at home. The last time I felt guilty and sad....because I was no longer there to help after seeing so many people in various stages of hurt," Sergeant Kibe said.
Sergeant Kibe is a medical technician of the 439th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron who returned home in October from his third deployment at Ramstein where Capt. Susan Hodges, 439th AES flight nurse, was also deployed.
His recent experiences are typical of Patriot Wing aeromedical specialists who deploy overseas.
His mission day started with a 6 or 7 a.m. wake-up call and a trip to the armory to pick up his M-9 pistol, followed by a secret briefing on threats and a ride to the C-17 or KC-135 to set up litters and support systems. From take-off to combat landing meant four to eight hours depending on winds and destination.
Approach was done wearing helmet and flak vest in the red glow of interior lights, feeling the big aircraft "yanking and banking" as a precaution against attack. Sergeant Kibe would be on the ground from one to six hours, depending on the wait for patients to be brought by helicopter and bus ambulance. The flight to Germany was followed by loading patients onto ambulances, then breaking down the equipment.
On his time off, Sergeant Kibe would walk around Ramstein to relax. Others would go to the gym or gather in groups and talk. "Everybody is different," he said.
The last mission had brought back Soldiers with amputations, fragmentation wounds and burns following a rocket or mortar attack at the Army's Camp Victory, near Baghdad, Iraq.
"They were just at work and all of a sudden 'boom, boom, boom, boom'. More than 30 were wounded and there were a number dead. We took out the first wave.
"That's one of the things that gets you - how quickly things can go terrible," Sergeant Kibe said.
On an earlier mission Sergeant Kibe escorted the Polish ambassador to Iraq who was burned when car bombs struck a convoy in Baghdad.
Sergeant Kibe was drafted into the Army in 1971 and served as an infantryman in Korea. From his perspective, he said, some patients looked distressingly young.
"I feel sorry for the young kids. Some kids don't look old enough to be in the military, never mind to be shot up. When I see older people I think 'that could be you'. I feel lucky," he said.