The Heroes of Green Ramp
The Heroes of Green Ramp
"Those are my brothers.... They're in trouble and we need to help them."
—Capt. Daniel A. Godfrey
The twenty-third of March 1994 was a fitting day for an airborne jump. The skies were clear, with good visibility; the temperature was in the mid-sixties; and the winds were moderate, 4 to 6 knots. The XVIII Airborne Corps, stationed at Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, North Carolina, had scheduled two parachute missions, one in the late afternoon and another in the evening, using aircraft on the adjacent Pope Air Force Base (see Map). Required to undergo prejump exercises within twenty-four hours of taking off, Army paratroopers had assembled at Pope Air Force Base for training in the early afternoon. Units on the day's manifest were the 82d Airborne Division's 504th Infantry, 505th Infantry, and 782d Support Battalion (Main), as well as the XVIII Airborne Corps' 525th Military Intelligence Brigade and 1 59th Aviation Group (Combat) (Airborne).
The paratroopers had gathered on the staging area known as Green Ramp,  located west of the southern end of Pope's main runway. Green Ramp contained the jumpmaster school buildings; the jumpers assembly building, referred to as the "pax shed"; a series of CONEX containers; two Air Force buildings; trailers; a snack bar; and the jumpmaster school training
Map, Fort Bragg & Vicinity
Fort Bragg and Vicinity
area, where mock doors and C-130 and C-141 mock aircraft were located in a parallel line. The paratroopers used the mock-ups, each positioned on a 3-foot-high platform, for rehearsing aircraft exits, as well as the smaller platforms interspersed among the mock-ups for practicing parachute landing falls. A pair of C-141 Starlifters, aircraft not usually based at Pope but designated for Fort Bragg's airborne exercises, sat on the tarmac about 75 feet from the mock doors. Vehicles lined the driveway near the pax shed and adjacent to the jumpmaster school.
Soldiers on Fire
The soldiers on Green Ramp were engaged in a variety of activities in preparation for the jump. About 1400 Capt. James B. Rich, the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade's S 4 (logistics officer) and a primary jumpmaster, had just finished rehearsing duties with the jumpmaster team in the mock aircraft. Cards in hand, he began to practice a briefing he was to give to the paratroopers at 1430. Another brigade officer, Capt. Daniel A. Godfrey, hastily spoke with Rich and then headed back toward the other members of his group located under the trees near the number 2 C-141 mock-up. 
A short distance away the 504th and 505th Infantry paratroopers readied themselves to practice jumps from the first set of mock doors. Many sat on the ground with their backs to the airfield, as they listened to the jumpmaster's review on static line injuries—"how to correctly exit and prevent getting the static line from the parachute wrapped about your arm," recalled Capt. M. Lee Walters of the 504th's 1st Battalion. Most had taken offtheir helmets and were wearing battle dress uniforms (BDU) and boots. The airborne troops wore no protective gear.
From a small platform in front of the trailers, S. Sgt. Michael T. Kelley of the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, rehearsed parachute landing falls by repeatedly hopping off the platform. He waited to move to the pax shed to pick up his parachute.
In the meantime, some paratroopers walked back from the pax shed, having put their chutes on. Others formed assembly lines in the area between the cargo shed and the nearby concrete platform, where the MACO (marshaling area control officer) brief is usually conducted before the final manifest call. After their names were called, the soldiers moved out to the chalk lines at the far end of the marshaling area.
Close to 500 paratroopers were on Green Ramp that early afternoon. Many of them were crowded into a narrow corridor formed by the pax shed and the CONEX containers on one side and the snack bar and mock-ups on the other side. More soldiers attended airborne classes, held at the jumpmaster school.
Around 1410 an F-16D Fighting Falcon collided with a C-130 Hercules transport while both tried to land at Pope Air Force Base. The Hercules touched down safely. The F-16 pilots ejected as the fighter plummeted to the ground, ricocheting across the tarmac and sliding into one of the parked C-141 Starlifters. Both planes exploded in flames, hurling searing-hot metal through the air and spewing 55,000 gallons of fuel onto Green Ramp. The debris-filled fireball, "described by some as 75 feet in diameter," roared through the staging area where the paratroopers were preparing for airborne operations, stopping in the vicinity of the Airborne Gate on Rifle Range Road, which separated Fort Bragg from Pope Air Force Base (Diagram 1). The "rolling blaze" became "a swirling ball of death."
Diagram, Green Ramp Staging Area
Diagram 1--Green Ramp Staging Area
Capt. Gerald K. Bebber, the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade chaplain, remembered that he had left the C-141 mock-up and was about 20 feet from the pax shed when he
heard the high pitched screech of a jet fighter airplane at open throttle from beyond the pack shed [sic] suddenly give way to a deep reverberating thud and massive explosion. I recognized the sound from my experience in battle in Desert Storm. As soon as I could think this, a great roaring rush of fire entered my sight above and to the left of the pack shed. It was at tree-top level, slanting down as it gushed into the mockup area at terrific speed.... The flame came though the tops of the trees that stood in a small open area beside the pack shed. In the torrent of flame I saw pieces of wreckage and machinery hurling along. As the torrent rushed in I could hear cries of alarm, curses, and someone yelling "run" from the mock-ups. The fire blast crackled as it blasted in, and at its sides it curled outward as it went forward. I was standing perhaps thirty feet beside the edge of the blast, and could see eddies of the flame curling out toward me. I turned and ran from the flame, to just beyond the right end of the pack shed, where . . . I no longer felt the intense heat, so I stopped. To my left, out on the aircraft ramp, now in my line of sight I could see a parked C-141 engulfed in flames. It was the left one of a pair of C-141s parked there.
Capt. Jonathan C. Gibbs III, the 159th Aviation Group chaplain, had been standing on the chalk line after manifest call when he saw the huge fireball "burst through the trees." He and many others ran toward the fence at the end of the marshaling area and dove behind the earth berm paralleling the fence. A few seconds after he "heard a loud 'whoosh' from the other side of the berm," he ran around the berm and saw a piece of fiery aircraft "the size of a volkswagen" on the chalk line where he had been standing. He saw flames and wreckage farther down along the mock-ups, but his view was blurred because of the smoke.
Captain Rich, the jumpmaster, was standing about S feet from the first C-141 mock door, rehearsing his prejump briefing, when some one yelled' "It's gonna crash." He looked in the direction of the flight line and saw an orange glow, surrounded by "smudgy black smoke." Rich remembered:
Despite hearing the word run, for some reason I determined that my only chance of survival lay not in running but finding something solid between myself and the oncoming fireball.... I think one of the com pelling factors in my decision to dive behind the mock door was an over whelming understanding that there was no way in hell I could outrun the oncoming debris.... I also remember ... that whatever cover I found had to be within about 5 feet of where I was standing. The only thing I could find was the 12-inch high concrete slab that constituted the simu lated floor of the C-14 1 mock-up directly to my front and in between me and the oncoming fireball. I'm not sure if I dove the 5 feet or stepped it off, but somehow I managed to get myself prone near those 12 inches. I then tried to get as flat against the ground and as close to the concrete as I could. In fact, I would go so far as to admit that I had an overwhelming desire to burrow my way into the side of that slab.
During the ordeal Rich felt "fully exposed," believing he was going to die. He heard chunks of debris hitting the mock door and thought it sounded like "rain hitting a tin roof." He likened the sound to "heavy pipes clanging against each other, mixed with a handful of steel marbles thrown against a road sign." The sensation of the "intense heat of the fireball as it passed over . . . was like being in a microwave with the temperature getting hotter and hotter.... It also had that weird low-pitched roaring sound like that of a blow torch.... At any instant [Rich] expected to burst into flames." Actually the captain's backside was on fire.
Captain Godfrey, who had been talking to Rich just before tne explosion, was heading back toward his group under the trees when he heard "whoosh"; as he turned and looked, he saw "fire in the air and debris starting to fly." He took three strides and "got real small in behind" a tree. He was on all fours with his head ducked down, his arms under him and braced. He heard debris hitting the tree and explosions of 20-mm. chain gun rounds from the F-16.
Sergeant Kelley was standing with his back toward the mock doors and the flight line when he heard a noise; as he turned, he saw the C-141 explode. He ran on an angle to the left of the explosion and something hit him in the back of the head. Realizing he could not outrun the fireball, he rolled on the ground. He remembered being taught "in nuclear training that you lay down and let the blast roll over top of you." He must have caught some fuel vapor, however, for when he stood up he was on fire. The flames rolled around from the back of him to the front. He dropped and rolled again. Then somebody came to help him. The rescuer crawled on top of Kelley and started hitting him with "a wrap of some kind," and another person started pouring water over him, and they called for a third person. "These people saved my life," recalled Kelley. The rescuers put him in the back of a truck and kept talking to him to keep him conscious. Kelley suffered burns on 70 percent of his body, including the area from his chin to his nose. He worried about his burned lips. He fell unconscious as he approached Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg. The last thing he saw was the flagpole on the Womack lawn.
Sgt. Jacob "Jake" T. Naeyaert, Jr., of the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, was walking back from the pax shed when the explosion occurred. He was at the level of the second mock door when he started running. He and a friend were trying to get behind the third mock door but did not make it. Something hit Naeyaert on the back of the head and threw him against the mock door; he fell unconscious. After the fireball had passed, he woke up but could not move. His ankle was broken, and his legs were on fire. Other soldiers, who had taken the Army's two-week combat lifesaving course, were there to jump and had their medical bags with them. They ran to Naeyaert, put the fires out on his legs, and gave him intravenous fluids to prevent shock. He went unconscious again. He woke up as soldiers were loading him onto a 2.5-ton truck for evacuation to the hospital. His friend was badly burned but still alive.
Soldiers of the 2d Battalion, 504th Infantry, who were listening to the jumpmaster's review while sitting on the ground in front of the mock doors, stood up and scattered in several directions after the explosion. Some of them ran toward the jumpmaster school training area, where the CONEX containers offered protection; others bolted toward the snack bar and fence; and still others tried to race behind the mock doors. Some found safety. Most did not. Green Ramp was a confined area, with limited space for running. The soldiers who hit the ground and rolled fared better than the troopers who ran. Some were too slow, or tripped over equipment, or had no place to go. Those who escaped injury went to the aid of the less fortunate, who were usually on f*e. Smoking tree branches and tree trunks and pieces of aircraft covered the 2/504th's mock-up, which had received the full blast of the fireball and debris.
Sgt. Gregory Cowper of the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, started rolling when the fire caught up with him. "Ammunition was going off. I couldn't tell where it was. I looked to my left and there was a man on fire. I looked to my right and there was a man on fire." Cowper helped about five or six people before realizing that he had a broken leg. Someone helped him out the gate and into a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV), referred to as a "Humvee" or "Hummer," for transportation to Womack. Cowper considered himself lucky.
S. Sgt. Timothy J. Gavaghan of the 82d Airborne Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Brigade, had a similar story. He was sitting outside the jumpmaster school when he heard the explosion. As the fireball came toward him, he lay on the asphalt with his hands over his face. After feeling the intense heat pass over him, he got up and for the next twenty minutes "operated on auto pilot." He "dragged people to safety, patted out fires, carried litters, whatever was needed." His "training took over," Gavaghan said. The "mere process of repetition" kept him "going." Gavaghan was one of many heroes.
Sgt. Waddington "Doe" Sanchez, a combat medic with the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, "was . . . one of the first to see the explosion come his way...." He yelled for everyone to get down or out of the way. In taking time to warn others, he perished in the fireball's wake. "He gave the ultimate sacrifice, his own life," said Lt. Ronald D. Walker, Sanchez' medical platoon leader. The father of five had planned to make a career in the Army.
Spc. Michael J. Fournier of the 2d Battalion, 504th Infantry, saved his life by Iying on the ground inside the mock aircraft. After the fireball passed, he stood up and saw chaos: "medics running around taking care of soldiers, and people running around yelling for water to put the flames out on casualties." And this, he recalled, "happened within a matter of five or ten minutes." Throughout the ordeal Fournier heard the sounds of ammunition from the fighter aircraft exploding in the heat.
Pfc. Michael P. Fletcher of the 2d Battalion, 504th Infantry, remembered that at the time of the explosion he was sitting on the ground about 20 feet from the first mock door with his back to the flicht line. While listening to a safety review by the jumpmaster, Fletcher heard people screaming. He immediately jumped up and, with his back still to the flight line, started running to the left toward the volleyball court between the pax shed and the jumpmaster school, only to trip and fall on his face. Within seconds the fireball passed over his head. He stood up and saw thick black smoke, soldiers on fire, and people racing toward the accident scene "from everywhere." He moved forward to help a burning soldier, and when they touched, Fletcher "just lit up." His BDU had been soaked with airplane fuel. While he hit the ground and rolled, others came to him and put the flames out. His rescuers moved him to the side of a nearby building and then asked him if he could sit in a Humvee, which had just arrived to transport casualties. Fully aware of what was going on, though suffering burns on over 35 percent of his body, Fletcher climbed into the vehicle for evacuation to Womack.
From his position just beyond the right end of the pax shed, Chaplain Bebber, having escaped the fireball, turned to face the training area and saw "a scene from hell." To his right side were two crushed food vendor trucks, one in flames. One of the vendors was on fire, and a soldier standing over him was trying to put out the flames. The row of mock-ups also was in flames, and burning debris and hot metal were everywhere. In an effort to return to his own unit's mockup, Bebber moved 25 feet and came across his first victims, two soldiers on fire. While two other rescuers smothered the flames on one soldier, he took off his BDU top and knelt down beside the other casualty to extinguish the flames. But the soldier's uniform top was soaked with fuel, which kept reigniting the fire. Finally, Bebber shoveled sand and gravel from the path that ran along the mock-ups onto the soldier's back and successfully quenched the flames. He tried not to get sand on the soldier's left leg, which flying wreckage had virtually cut off. Bebber remembered hoping that the doctors could reattach the severed leg.
All around the brigade chaplain "people were doing the same thing": rescuing soldiers, using their bare hands and canteens of water to "put out the last smoldering places." Meanwhile, ammunition exploded, and people shouted to get away. But no one paid attention. "It seemed irrelevant," Bebber said. Soldiers were responding the way they were trained to do in combat. Bebber became aware of the dead around him. Some were badly burned; others were "horribly cut and torn"; a few had no apparent injury but were just dead. About 10 feet away one soldier was "already the death-color of gray," although someone was attempting to revive him with CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). The Episcopal priest, who had entered the Army nine years before the tragedy, moved from group to group, speaking to the injured and helping to lift the wounded into the tactical and personal vehicles that began arriving to evacuate them to Womack. Other chaplains joined Bebber in praying and listening to the accounts of those who felt like talking.
The group chaplain, Captain Gibbs, had narrowly escaped death. He recalled staring in horror at the piece of fiery aircraft that had landed on the chalk line where he had been standing one minute before the explosion. After hearing ammunition go off in the vehicle park area, he ran around the back of the distressed cargo shed and into the training sector, where he saw injured soldiers. One man, badly burned on his head' face, and hands, walked toward Gibbs screaming. The chaplain and two other rescuers poured water from canteens on the soldier and pulled off his smoldering BDU. Gibbs also helped move the injured to the guard shed, designated as a casualty evacuation center. He joined an Air Force chaplain in calming the wounded and preventing them from going into shock.
S. Sgt. Daniel E. Price of the 2d Battalion, 505th Infantry, sacrificed his life to save a female soldier he had never met before. Spc. Estella Wingfield, an information systems operator with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, remembered:
He looked me in the eye, grabbed me by the shirt, threw me several feet in the air and jumped on top of me.... An instant later, I heard the blast, felt the extreme heat from the explosion and the debris falling on us.... After the explosion and the rounds stopped going off, he whispered in my ear, "Crawl out from underneath me.'' I did and took off running.
Wingfield thought that Price was running behind her. When she realized he was not, she ran back to the spot where he had protected her from the explosion. He was dead. "He saved my life," she said.
Captain Rich, who had taken refuge behind a mock door, knew his backside was on fire. It was the only part of his body sticking up over the concrete. Rolling on the ground to put the flames out, he noticed the fireball had gone. Near him was a man "burning like a human torch." Rich lunged at the soldier and knocked him to the ground. With his bare hands he tried to extinguish the flames, but the soldier's fuel-soaked clothing kept reigniting. "No matter how hard you patted you couldn't get the fire out." He ripped off the man's BDU and quenched the flames. A few feet away Rich helped another soldier put out spots of fire on the back of a female soldier Iying on the ground. He decided to look for others who might need help. It was then that the sheer devastation on Green Ramp hit him:
The number of wounded was almost overwhelming. Everywhere there were groups gathered around the injured trying to help them. Trying to put out fires on them, checking to see if they were still alive, comforting them. Others were r~mning around in half panic, half dazed, looking for someone to help or something to do. Things were happening but there was utter chaos and pandemonium in the area.
Upon seeing a man on fire from head to toe, Iying in the middle of the road trying to quench his own flames, Rich pulled off the man's fueldrenched clothing and also tried to remove a hot metal belt buckle but burned his fingertips. He then used a penknife to remove the buckle, as well as to cut offthe soldier's smoldering boots. The man was conscious and wanted to know how badly burned he was. Rich told him he was going to make it. A trooper from the airborne course helped Rich stabilize the soldier and to place a helmet under his head to make him more comfortable.
While the other rescuer stayed with the badly burned soldier, Rich walked through the carnage to check on others. He assisted in moving an unconscious man from a burning post in order to put his fires out. While the rescuers tried to revive the man with CPR, Rich shifted to another area to offer help. He saw an apparently strong soldier with a nearly severed leg, who was thrashing his limbs about. The captain helped others to hold down the man and tie the two leg pieces together to prevent further injury. Rescuers continued to struggle to control the injured man. When a Humvee arrived, they lifted the casualty onto a ply~vood stretcher and into the back of the vehicle. Rich was aware of live ammunition, while he was helping the wounded. But for him "it was not an issue.... It was not a concern." He focused on a 2-foot area. The only thing that mattered to him was the soldier he was standing over at the moment, or the rescuers he was helping. That was important. Combat training instilled a supportive attitude.
During the thirty minutes in which Rich was helping casualties, all of the severely injured were evacuated to Womack. As a symbolic gesture, he carried some "TA-50"—individual equipment-issued items, helmets, rucksacks—off the tarmac. He had suffered a gash in his ankle during the initial explosion and by now was limping. Rich and the other walking wounded climbed into a truck, which brought them to the hospital.
When Captain Godirey looked up from behind the tree where he had sought protection, he saw a lot of people on fire. He helped a soldier extinguish the flames on his arm and then assisted an injured husband and wife team who were scheduled to jump that day. Lt. Kenneth Altfather, the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade's assistant S-3 (operations officer), had saved his wife's life by pushing her to the ground and placing himself on top of her when he saw the fireball approaching. Both were miraculously saved, though the legs of Altfather's wife, Sgt. Lorellei Houghton of the 51 9th Military Intelligence Battalion, kept burning because of her fuel-soaked uniform. After much effort, and with Godfrey's help, Altfather put out the flames on his wife and burned his hands in the process. The captain moved on from soldier to soldier after that. He burned his hands while knocking to the ground a soldier whose back and legs were on fire. Then Godfrey used his BDU top to extinguish the flames. He helped Captain Rich and other rescuers lift another injured soldier onto a makeshift plywood stretcher and into the back of a Humvee. He climbed into the passenger side of the vehicle and, en route to the hospital, held the injured soldier's fractured leg immobile.
Many people not involved in the accident had rushed onto Green Ramp to offer assistance. They included instructors from the jumpmaster school; medics from the Special Forces, who were in the jumpmaster school that day; members of Fort Bragg's 44th Medical Brigade, who were training nearby; and others who happened to be in the parking lot. The fireball never reached them, but they saw what happened and instinctively went to help.
To transport wounded to the Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, troops had commandeered all sorts of vehicles—trucks, Humvees, military vehicles, and privately owned cars belonging to jumpmaster school students. Instructors, students, Joint Special Operations Command medics, trained medical personnel from nonmedical units, and Air Force personnel, who either had witnessed the explosion or were nearby, tore up the jumpmaster school to make litters of plywood, doors, and metal strips for the victims. "If you could put someone on it, they used it," said T. Sgt. Ricardo A. Gonzales, an aeromedical technician with the 23d Medical Squadron. Rescuers then drove the casualties to the hospital .
Spc. Brian Powell, an emergency medical technician, described the Humvees he saw taking injured soldiers to Womack under escort of military police: "The back of the hummer was full of bodies.... They were piled on top of each other and one of the guys was keeping them down, trying to keep them calm. They were black, covered with soot. Some were hurt really bad. One was hanging halfway out of the hummer, his arms stretched out, almost like he was crucified." All casualties who were still alive had been evacuated to Womack's main hospital within forty-five minutes of the accident.
Contingency planning had made it possible for firefighters to respond effectively to the accident. When the alarm sounded, Pope Air Force Base firefighters were at the crash within two minutes and were battling fires within three. Fort Bragg and Cumberland County firefighters arrived at Pope's fire station within six to fifteen minutes. A new mutual aid program, devised by the military and civilian fire chiefs, helped the fire departments to respond quickly and competently. After the Pope dispatcher called the county dispatcher, requesting units from five specific fire departments and their equipment, the latter, "with the flick of a few switches, . . . sent out the five calls. It really cut down on the time the dispatcher needs to spend on the phone with us, which makes the whole process go faster," recalled Capt. Chris Dowless of the Cumberland County Emergency Operations Center. The Fort Bragg garrison also had the same type of plan with the county fire departments.
Since military and civilian firefighters used similar appliances, the firemen could hook up to each other's systems and work together. Fort Bragg's Ladder 10 linked hoses with a fire truck from Spring Lake Fire Department; together they poured foam and water on the C-141 to keep its fuselage from igniting. Within twenty minutes the aircraft was under control. To prevent the second C-141 from catching on fire, maintenance crews rapidly towed the Starlifter about 300 yards away. Other fire engines put out spot fires on trees, the ground, rucksacks, equipment, debris, buildings, a food vendor truck, and even casualties. The combined efforts of five fire trucks succeeded in extinguishing the flames within fifty minutes of the crash.
When the fires were out, the firefighters searched for the F-16's tank of hydrazine, a chemical used for emergency engine restarting "because even a whiff of it [was] fatal." A small amount of hydrazine had leaked from the fighter's emergency power unit, which later was found near the center of the disaster site.
Contingency planning also helped medical rescue teams respond with alacrity. Within minutes of notification, medical rescue teams bom Pope Air Force Base and from Fort Bragg reached the accident scene. Four ambulances from the 23d Medical Squadron, which supported the 23d Wing on Pope Air Force Base, answered the call from various locations. Three of the ambulances and crews were on the road and had witnessed the collision. One of those ambulances rescued the two F-16 pilots and took them to the Pope Air Force Base clinic. The 23d Medical Squadron's unit control center, activated because of the crash, sent a fifth ambulance, medicines, and supplies to Green Ramp. The 44th Medical Brigade, fortuitously training nearby, also arrived with ambulances within minutes. In response to a 911 alert, Womack Army Medical Center activated its disaster plan and sent ambulances to Green Ramp.
Two UH-60 medevac helicopters had landed near Green Ramp as well. The aircraft belonged to the 57th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) of the 56th Medical Battalion (Evacuation), which was part of the 55th Medical Group of the 44th Medical Brigade. The "1st up" aircraft arrived at Pope Air Force Base at 1438, eight minutes after notification, and departed for Womack with two litter cases at 1448. The "2d up" aircraft touched down at 1440 but did not evacuate any casualties. Six other medevac helicopters, belonging to the 57th Medical Company, stood by at Womack and at nearby Simmons Army Airfield for transfer of casualties from Womack to other facilities.
Just outside the Airborne Gate on Rifle Range Road, eight civilian ambulances from Cumberland, Moore, Hoke, and Harnett Counties stood by to move casualties, but all of the injured had been evacuated. Immediately after the explosion the security police secured the gate to keep vehicles from entering the area.
Limited triage occurred at the crash site because of the fires and exploding ammunition (500 rounds of 20-mm. ammunition from the fighter), the numerous medical personnel and vehicles available for evacuation, and the quick transport of casualties to Womack nearby. Six burn patients were taken to the Pope Air Force Base clinic and later transported to Womack. The nine pronounced dead at the scene were placed in a temporary morgue in a small building near the crash site and then moved to the morgue at Womack.
Once the impact of the accident had sunk in, survivors reflected on their actions. Both Captains Rich and Godfrey believed that basic training in how to react to live artillery helped them to survive. Artillery drills taught them to "hit the ground and find cover.... Your best chance of survival lay in the first 12 inches of air from the ground up." Both dug themselves into the earth behind cover, and both survived. They were fortunate that protection was within a few feet of where they were standing.
Military instruction also helped Rich and Godfrey to behave like heroes. Combat training taught them that a soldier's responsibility is to help other soldiers in time of need: "Those are my brothers, or however that feeling is; they're in trouble and we need to help them." Rich and Godfrey gained faith in their fellow soldiers that they would "not be left" and would "be taken care of." As a result, "a camaraderie . . . developed . . an unspoken understanding."
Capt. B. Keith Poole, the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, added: "It was a tough situation, but they were never overcome by it." Soldiers ran in to take care of injured comrades. They did not wait for someone to take charge. They did this on their own initiative. Poole echoed both Rich's and Godfrey's belief that their military training had enabled them to save many soldiers'lives.
Similarly, Spc. Gus Siettas of the 2d Battalion, 504th Infantry, said: "If this type of accident had occurred in a civilian airport, it's likely that people would not have known what to do.... Common Task Training, battle drills and conditioning definitely saved lives out there."
Spc. Gregory R. Norrid of the 1 st Battalion, 58th Aviation, who ran back into the accident area after the explosion to help the injured, also attributed his actions in combat lifesaving and common task training that stressed splinting and control of bleeding. After putting out the flames on one soldier, he heard another cry for a tourniquet. Norrid picked up a piece of wood to apply pressure and) while tending to the soldier, took an ammunition round fragment in his left arm. He continued to aid the injured despite his own wound. "In this situation there were a lot of other people who did what I did," he said. "It shows us that training (such as common task, basic first aid and combat lifesaving) is there for a reason. People think it's mundane, repeating it year after year, but . . . the training kicks in and you just do what you hope another soldier would do for you."
Lt. Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, praised the quick and impromptu response of the soldiers and rescue teams after the explosion. "When fear sets in, training takes over," Shelton said. "No one shied away.... It's that kind of phenomenal response that allowed us to get all the injured to the hospitals within 40 to 45 minutes."
One month before the accident the 2d Battalion, 504th Infantry, had to simulate evacuating dead and wounded during maneuvers at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Lessons learned during those exercises helped the battalion to evacuate soldiers and account for fallen comrades on Green Ramp. "Most of the things . . . [at the crash site] were exactly what we had trained there," said Lt. Col. Stanley A. McChrystal, the battalion commander who had served with a special operations unit during the Gulf War. "We had to figure out who we had, and that's much harder than you think because of the confusion at the site."
Proud of the heroes of Green Ramp, the commanding general of the 82d Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. William M. Steele, said:
It was soldiers saving soldiers. Soldiers putting out fires on other soldiers; soldiers dragging soldiers out of fires; resuscitating; giving soldiers CPR; putting tourniquets on limbs that had been severed; putting out fires on their bodies, sometimes with their own hands. Anything they could do to care for their buddies that were more seriously injured they were doing. They can't do that without knowing how. They responded the way they would in combat.
The immediate response to the disaster on Green Ramp produced numerous heroes, while demonstrating the benefits of readiness, training, and contingency planning. Combat lifesaving courses, common task training, and quick evacuation undoubtedly saved lives. Firefighters, ambulance crews, and medevac teams answered the alerts with professionalism and dispatch, reflecting, in most respects, well-planned schemes. The esprit de corps of the 82d Airborne Division, which had already been good, reached new heights of camaraderie and understanding because of the accident.