EUCOM troops mobilize to assist Russians after school hostage siege
STUTTGART, Germany — The hostage siege in Russia had been blaring on the newscasts; now pictures of bloody children were being shown on TV.
Hundreds of people were killed and nearly 800 were wounded or dying.
“Everyone here watches the news and keeps up … and realizes,” said Army Maj. Leah Erwin of the U.S. European Command’s logistics directorate, or J-4. “Now the thinking is, ‘I wonder how we could respond to this or whether or not we will.’ ”
They would. Thirty-six hours after the phone rang at Erwin’s office asking for EUCOM’s help, two planes loaded with medical supplies took off to Russia from Germany for victims of what some call Russia’s 9/11.
The supplies — medicine and equipment to treat burn and trauma victims — were needed after suspected Chechen rebels apparently herded students and faculty into a bomb-rigged gymnasium on Sept. 1. The gym exploded on Friday after Russian troops entered the building.
Some U.S. troops who were working over the Labor Day weekend expected to be called to help.
“Other than in the middle of New York City or Chicago or maybe Moscow, nobody in the world could have absorbed the kind of casualties they took,” said Army Col. Edward Huycke, EUCOM’s command surgeon.
“So help would have been necessary for anybody.”
The Russians had requested through the U.S. State Department a very specific list of needs and the list was sent to EUCOM.
They’d asked for blood substitutes and blood-testing equipment, anti-depressants for hysterical victims and family members, and anti-convulsants to help prevent the injured from going into shock.
They needed special beds for burn victims, burn ointments and intravenous fluids, X-ray machines, and blankets and sheets to keep people warm.
Soldiers at Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Kaiserslautern were keeping track of the story.
“It was sad to watch,” said Army Sgt. Gloria Newland of the 251st Cargo Transfer Company.
Newland was phoned Sunday evening and told that soldiers from the 251st and the 29th Support Group would be needed to move the supplies from the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Command Europe in nearby Pirmasens to the airplanes at Ramstein, and to assemble and load the pallets.
At Pirmasens, about 35 troops, civilians and local nationals rounded up ointments, bandages and drugs. Technicians tested medical equipment such as vital-signs monitors to make sure it would work in Russia.
Air Force Master Sgt. Edward Grantham of USAMMCE said he was struck by the teamwork.
“Trucks got here on time, trucks left on time, people were waiting on the pad and the cargo got palletized,” Grantham said. “It was a phenomenal mission in a short, compact amount of time.”
Workers loaded three 40-foot trucks from the 251st Cargo Transport and another from USAMMCE, and early Monday morning they convoyed the 30 miles north to Ramstein.
Soldiers and airmen then built 63 pallets of supplies — about 35,000 pounds worth — and loaded them onto the awaiting C-130s. Two crews from the 38th Airlift Squadron boarded the planes and left for Russia at about 7:30 a.m. Monday.
Losing a long Labor Day weekend did not enter the troops’ minds.
“Being in the military, you’re on call all the time,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Jon Janson of the 435th Air Base Wing’s Public Affairs Office, who flew to Russia with about the 25 airmen. “If you know you’re going to be helping and hopefully save lives, it wouldn’t make a difference what day it was.”
USAMMCE has been busy helping keep medical supplies in stock at nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army Col. Thomas Brown, the USAMMCE commander, said the Labor Day mission to Russia took on a different urgency.
“All of us were aware of the disaster at the school in Russia,” said Brown. “When any of us realize there are children involved, I think it adds to our desire.”