Womack Army Medical Center’s Graduate Medical Education Department hosted the Medical Education Leadership Development event, March 22. The intent of the event was to focus on how WAMC responded to the Green Ramp Disaster of 1994.
About 300 people attended the event consisting of WAMC staff, resident students and some key leaders who witnessed the aftermath of the disaster. This was a chance to reflect on that day and also an opportunity to engage key leaders on lessons learned. The goal of this event was to use lessons learned to plan for future mass casualties as a high-reliability organization within the Medical Command.
On March 23, 1994, shortly after 2 p.m., an F-16D collided with a C-130E mid-air above the flight line at Pope Air Force Base. The F-16 began to break apart on impact, showering debris on the runway and the surrounding area. The F-16 wreckage hit a C-141B parked at Green Ramp that was preparing for an airborne operation. The F-16 wreckage punctured the C-141’s right wing fuel tanks. The resulting fireball penetrated the still moving F-16 wreckage and moved into an area where about 500 paratroopers were preparing for upcoming jumps. Twenty-three Soldiers died and more than 80 were injured.
The WAMC GME department plans a monthly professional development session primarily for training programs, students, residents, junior officers and enlisted Soldiers on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Col. John Lammie, director of Medical Education and host for the event, quickly realized that this monthly training evolved into something even greater.
“Back in August, I invited Maj. Gen. (retired) George Weightman, (WAMC’s acting commander at the time of the disaster) to come here,” Lammie said. “He sent us a list of topics to speak on and I chose this one because this is a huge part of the Womack history and a major milestone for our generation.
“As I started to discuss this idea, invitations were extended to other leadership that were there that day as well as patients and staff members,” he said.
Other key leaders included: Lt. Gen. (retired) Patricia Horoho, former U.S. Army Surgeon General and chief nurse of WAMC’s Emergency Department; Maj. Gen. (retired) Stephen Jones, former WAMC deputy commander of clinical services; Maj. Gen. (retired) Harold Timboe, former WAMC commander; and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Clark, former 82nd Airborne Division surgeon and current director of operations for the Defense Health Agency.
During the question and answer panel discussion, Lt. Col. (retired) Jay Nelson, one of the injured Soldiers, shared his experience of how he coped with his physical and mental injuries and what he appreciated about that day.
“Y’all, I’m here because of you,” said Nelson (looking to the audience). “Other folks are alive because of the innovations and the lessons that you’ve learned in the past war that we’ve had and the past engagements. You are to be applauded for what you do on a day-to-day basis, because it’s awesome. Just the fact that we’re getting together for the first time with the lead players here; that’s a big thing, it says a lot about y’all as community, as a profession and as a healthcare facility.”
As the event came to a close, key leaders, former and current WAMC staff members quickly realized that the experience of this event was twofold — to plan for future mass casualty incidents and also a chance to heal from the past hurts of this disaster.
“As many of us have witnessed in this room there’s events that happen in our life where almost time stands still and it doesn’t matter how many years pass or what has occurred for the rest of that journey,” said Horoho. “You can go right back to that moment and remember the sights, the sounds and the smell. I think the indelible image that I had on that day is the image of just an unbelievable community coming together and the American spirit being displayed under the harshest conditions.
“I’ll be perfectly honest, throughout my entire career I felt like that was a defining moment in my career, for me personally, because I knew why we existed. I knew why Army Medicine existed.”
The event was followed by a reception at the U.S. Army Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville where survivors, staff and GME students were able to continue the conversation.