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Portraits in Courage: SOST

  • Published
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
While deployed in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, this Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST) provided care for more than 750 patients, managed 19 mass casualty events, performed 16 life-saving surgeries, and cared for casualties exposed to chemical weapons.

The team moved by ground convoy through unsecure territory to an abandoned residence and converted it into a makeshift hospital and casualty collection point for patient treatment and surgery. They immediately began receiving a continuous flow of casualties due to being three kilometers away from a besieged city. Electricity, clean water, medical supplies, and blood were always in short supply. The supply of blood reached critical levels as the flow of patients continued unabated.

Maj. Nelson Pacheco rallied local fighters to provide multiple units of blood; however, one critically injured patient required more blood during surgery. Capt. Cade Reedy donated his own blood that saved the local fighter’s life. In total, this overall effort provided more than 30 units of life-saving blood.

On a separate occasion, a large family raced toward a checkpoint while insurgents fired automatic machine guns along their course. Scores of women and children needed immediate care. Lt. Col. Ben Mitchell and Pacheco cared for the critically wounded while the dead lay at their feet. With more patients than providers, the SOST treated casualties that an emergency room team would have struggled to manage. Lt. Col. Matthew Uber surgically secured the airway of a young girl whose face and jaw had been horribly damaged. Tech. Sgt. Richard Holguin established an airway on one casualty while single-handedly managing another patient’s chest injury. To compound the chaotic situation, mortar rounds whistled overhead and detonated 250 meters away. The team donned body armor, readied weapons, and continued to care for the severely injured patients.

For the first time ever in a forward wartime environment, Maj. Justin Manley performed a procedure that placed a balloon catheter through a critically injured patient’s femoral artery into the aorta. The balloon catheter was then inflated in order to stop the bleeding. This temporary measure provided valuable time to stabilize the patient and allowed him to survive en route to the operating room. This new device was used three more times during the deployment, saving four patients who otherwise would not have survived.

Each member of the team has been submitted for Bronze Stars for their courageous actions and exemplary performance in saving hundreds of lives during continuous 24-hour medical operations over eight weeks.