Iceland volcano delays evac for U.S. wounded in Afghanistan

McClatchy NewspapersApril 19, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The volcanic ash cloud hanging over Europe is slowing down U.S. military transport of soldiers injured in Afghanistan back to U.S. hospitals by eight hours, Pentagon officials said Monday.

Rather than flying from Germany’s Ramstein Air Force base, which has been grounded by the ash cloud, soldiers are now being transported to the naval base in Rota, Spain. The resulting re-routing to get troops to Rota means an additional eight hours of flight back to the United States, the Pentagon said.

When a soldier is seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, doctors stabilize them there, and then get them to Ramstein where medical teams conduct emergency surgeries and stabilize them for the trip home. Troops then come home to the United States for long-term treatment.

Ramstein is a large mega-base that has been the home for such efforts to save soldiers since 2001; Rota is much smaller and not nearly as engaged in the wars. That said, there are far fewer injuries in Iraq and so far this month in Afghanistan troop deaths at 10, far fewer than the peak of scores of dead that came through Ramstein at the height of violence in Iraq.

Since this weekend, three servicemen have arrived at Andrews Air Force base, Md., by way of Rota, the military said. From there they were transported to Bethesda Naval hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Since it erupted, the volcanic ash cloud has hobbled 80 percent of European aiports. The military could not say how long it would have to depend on Rota but the EU is considering easing flight restrictions beginning Tuesday.

But it remains unclear what are the costs of those eight hours during those critical hours immediately after an injury.

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