Texas nurse is honored for air rescue in Afghanistan
El Paso Times
BEAUMONT, Texas — Army Capt. Kevin Copley isn't really comfortable with being called a hero, but that's exactly what the U.S. Air Force says he is.
Copley, 35, is a nurse at Beaumont Army Medical Center and is assigned to A Company with the hospital's Intensive Care Unit.
A native of North Vernon, Ind., he took part in a daring air rescue when he was deployed to Afghanistan and helped save the lives of two critically wounded U.S. soldiers on Christmas Eve 2011.
Copley was the en-route nurse for the crew of Fever 11, a C-130 airplane, that was used to rescue the two wounded soldiers in a blinding sandstorm that had grounded other air traffic that day.
Members of Fever 11 were told that the mission was "high risk" and that they might not make it back, Copley said.
"I really don't like the word 'volunteer,'" he said. "We were already on duty. It would have been our job if the weather hadn't been bad."
The crew voted unanimously to make the rescue.
Copley had been in Afghanistan for about a month and was stationed at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province in southwest Afghanistan. Even though he is an Army nurse, he was attached to the Air Force 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron while deployed. This is an elite para-rescue unit.
The crew of the Fever 11 was honored during the annual meeting of the U.S. Air Force Association on Sept. 17 in Washington, D.C. The crew was given the Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Award as the "most outstanding strategic aircrew in the Air Force."
The award is named after Tunner, who was in charge of the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and 1949 that kept thousands of Germans from starving when the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin.
Copley helped to keep the two wounded soldiers alive during a chaotic flight that lasted more than an hour. The soldiers had been shot by Afghanistan National Army soldiers in a case of insider "green on blue violence" that has become more common over the past few years.
The rescue crew initially landed at Farah, and "there was blood everywhere in the operating room" at the field hospital there, Copley said.
The surgeon on duty there said that one of the soldiers, who had been shot three times in the chest, had no chance to live if he stayed there and had only about a 20 percent chance if he was airlifted, Copley said.
On the return flight, there was a bit of confusion as to where they were supposed to take the two wounded soldiers. The bad weather limited where they could land and they also needed a thoracic surgeon for the soldier with the chest wounds, Copley said.
They were originally supposed to go to Kandahar but ended up returning to Camp Bastion, where they found the necessary medical help.
Making the day even more of a white-knuckle ride, they needed to return to Farah one more time to resupply the hospital there with blood.
"It was one of those days, when it was over, where you ask yourself, 'Did that really happen?'" Copley said.
Copley said he promised his wife that if he ever did "anything really crazy" he wouldn't let her know about it until it was done, he said.
"I called her after," he said.
Copley's father, Cecil, served in the Army for 20 years and is very proud of his son.
"He just doesn't get home as much as we'd like," the elder Copley said. "Being in the military can be a sad life that the American public doesn't quite understand the sacrifices that the guys and gals in uniform go through. It really takes a toll on families."
Patients at Beaumont Army Medical Center, however, can take comfort that they have quality people like his son taking care of them, Cecil Copley said.
"He really cares for them," he said.
Capt. Elizabeth Tricozzi is a registered nurse and supervisor for the Intensive Care Unit at Beaumont.
She described Copley as "someone who has integrity — always seeking to do what is right for his peers and subordinates."
"He is passionate about taking care of others and I say that with the knowledge that I have seen him fight for his peers and subordinates when no one else would," Tricozzi said in an email.
Tricozzi also called Copley a "hero" for accepting the rescue mission with Fever 11 while in Afghanistan.
"What makes him a hero is he accepted this mission and completed it without wanting recognition," Tricozzi said. "This is the spirit of WBAMC (William Beaumont Army Medical Center). There are many soldiers and civilians who save lives every day, and they do it without expecting recognition."
Copley has served in the Army for 15 years. He's been a nurse for the past six. Before that, he served as a tank commander, gunner and other tank-related jobs at Fort Riley, Kan.
He earned his bachelor's degree in nursing science from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. He earned his critical care nursing national certification before he was deployed.
He will attend the Army Captain Career Course in San Antonio later this year and then will be assigned to the Washington, D.C., area where he will be an Army recruiter for medical personnel, his father said.