Saturday, October 14, 2000

Kaiserslautern gears up
for injured sailors' arrival

By Adam Ramirez
Kaiserslautern bureau

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — One after another, dozens of civilians, Army and Air Force members walked into the blood drive auditorium Friday and rolled up their sleeves.

Everyone had heard that the injured sailors from the USS Cole were en route to Germany. More specifically, to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center

All of them said they wanted to do their part, and so many showed up to give blood, donating hours were extended an extra 21/2 hours.

The vast majority of the Kaiserslautern military community spent Friday gearing up for the dozens of sailors injured in Thursday’s terrorist attack in Yemen.

Surgeons tried to rest before a long night shift. Hospital staff and Army privates stocked supplies and prepared rooms for the arrival of family members and the press.

By nightfall, most everyone was in place and now had to wait for the two C-9 Nightingale medical evacuation planes to arrive in the early morning hours Saturday.

"I think that was a cowardly thing to do, and I think all of us here want to do anything we can to help the victims," said civilian Raymond Harp, one of 125 people to donate blood.

"I figure it’s better to have the blood if they need it," added Harp. "We all rally around to help when something like this happens."

Army Lt. Col. Jim Yonts of the U.S. Army Europe public affairs office, said there was a steady flow of calls from interested volunteers.

"I’ve spoken to a few women myself who called to ask if they could bake cookies or baby-sit or hold hands or anything," he said.

Landstuhl’s staff of about 1,500 was mobilized, said Col. Elder Granger, the hospital’s commander.

"We are in constant communication with two C-9s — it is about a nine-hour flight back, so we’ll be ready for whatever they need," Granger said as the hospital’s American and German flags flew at half-mast. "We’ve allowed the staff to leave early to get some rest and prepare for a long night."

The Landstuhl medical community is accustomed to such situations. The hospital treated American and Kenyan victims of the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi in August 1998. It also received a flood of victims from the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, and the 1988 Ramstein Air Show disaster.

All day Friday, the Kaiserslautern community was told about the blood drive on the local radio, by e-mail and by word-of-mouth.

On Thursday night, a similar urgency was felt on Ramstein’s flight line.

"We have a developing picture of what’s happening," said Staff Sgt. Chris Whited, a respiratory therapist who was heading to Yemen. "If you’re prepared for the worst, the least is not going to phase you."

A few hours before the Nightingales took flight, Whited and his team were on board, making sure they were stocked with everything from intravenous tubes to aspirin.

Once in Yemen, the team would have to take 75-pound medical packs to the local hospitals where the wounded waited.

As everyone waited for the injured survivors to arrive, some Air Force crews tended to the fallen sailors. Around 6 p.m. the bodies of the seven sailors who died on the Cole landed in Germany. Ten more sailors still missing are presumed dead.

An Air Force honor guard conducted a memorial service for the fallen sailors. On Saturday, their bodies will be flown to the United States.

Contributing to this report: staff writer Marni McEntee at Ramstein Air Base.