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Womack Army Medical Center to look back on tragedy that killed 24 soldiers, injured 170

Womack Army Medical Center.

U.S. ARMY

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: March 20, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Twenty three years ago, Fort Bragg’s Green Ramp caught fire.

A mid-air collision of two aircraft over what was then Pope Air Force Base sent an F-16 hurtling to the runway, where it struck a C-141 Starlifter before an explosion engulfed hundreds of paratroopers waiting for an airborne operation.

What was supposed to be a routine jump from clear blue skies on March 24, 1994, became instead a scene of horror with burning and injured soldiers strewn among the wreckage. Twenty-four 82nd Airborne Division soldiers died and more than 170 others were injured.

This week on Fort Bragg, leaders will look back on the tragedy that took place more than two decades ago. But they’ll do so with an eye to the future.

Womack Army Medical Center, which treated the injured in the wake of the Green Ramp disaster by lining gurneys holding soldiers along hallways and in conference rooms, will host a special retrospective during a day-long training event at the Iron Mike Conference and Catering Center on Wednesday.

Col. John Lammie, director of medical education at Womack, said the event will focus on the medical response in the immediate aftermath of the crash and how the injured were treated in the weeks and months following the disaster.

Former hospital leaders as well as victims of the disaster will be on hand for the event, speaking to young leaders from within Womack and other medical units both on and off Fort Bragg. About 275 attendees were signed up to participate by Monday morning.

Lammie said the event will give today’s young leaders to a better understanding of what took place and how the hospital coped with the biggest disaster in Fort Bragg history.

“This was a huge, huge event,” he said. "The lessons that we should never forget shape our culture and how we should respond to any future community emergencies. The privilege of hearing from leaders and survivors of this event 23 years ago could have a huge impact in developing our future Army Medicine leaders."

Special guests for the event will include retired general officers who once held leadership positions at Womack during the disaster response, such as retired Maj. Gen. George Weightman, who was the hospital’s acting deputy commander; retired Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, who was the hospital’s chief nurse of the emergency department; retired Maj. Gen. Harold Timboe, who commanded the hospital; retired Maj. Gen. Stephen Jones, who was the hospital’s deputy commander of clinical services; and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Clark, who was the 82nd Airborne Division surgeon at the time of the disaster and is now director of operations for the Defense Health Agency.

Attending survivors who will share their stories will include retired Lt. Col. Jay Nelson, who was burned on Green Ramp on the day of the disaster and later served as commander of Fort Bragg’s Warrior Transition Battalion, and Richard Clapp, who was serving as a private in the 82nd Airborne. He was injured by the blast.

The event, which starts at 9 a.m. and lasts all day, will include presentations, panel discussions and short vignettes from survivors and rescue personnel willing to share intense memories of the disaster.

Many of the participants have spoken about their experiences in the past.

Nelson, who spoke with the Observer about the disaster in 2014, said the crash shattered a beautiful day, bringing a wave of fire and confusion.

Nelson said he heard two pops — what he learned later were the sounds of the pilots ejecting from their doomed F-16 — then looked over his shoulder in time to see the jet, broken in half and hurtling toward him as some in the formation yelled: “Crash!”

“I took two steps and I was diving for the ground, and the fireball swept over me,” Nelson said. “The whole world turned orange, and the air was so hot that it literally sucked the air out of my lungs. And I blacked out.”

Lammie said officials can learn a lot from the response to the 23-year-old disaster. The hospital conducts regular mass casualty exercises and a large-scale plane crash remains one of the scenarios that officials practice.

He said he hopes Wednesday’s event will remind those who attend of what could happen. And what it will take to be prepared if it does.

brooksd@fayobserver.com

©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com
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