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Selfridge Aircrew save life, nominated for Mackay Trophy

  • Published
  • By Story by Tech. Sgt. Chelsea E. FitzPatrick
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs

Three Selfridge Airmen have been nominated for the 2020 Air Force’s Clarence Mackay Trophy after successfully completing a lifesaving aeromedical evacuation mission between Jan. 25 and Feb. 2, 2020. Capt. Alexander Begue, Capt. Jennifer Logsdon, both KC-135 Stratotanker pilots, and Staff Sgt. Jordan Kaminiski, a boom operator, all of the 171st Air Refueling Squadron, will be considered for the award, along with aircrew members of the Alaska Air National Guard and active duty medical evacuation team members who also supported the mission.

“It’s an honor to have been nominated for the award,” said Begue. “When you look at previous Mackay Trophy recipients, there are a bunch of [aircrew members] who are heroes and more deserving than us.”

While deployed as members of the 506th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam last winter, the aircrew volunteered with little notice to fly to Kadena Air Base, Japan, to intercept an active duty medevac team that was treating a U.S. Navy rescue diver with a traumatic brain injury. The patient was in dire need of a neurosurgeon’s expertise, which was not available on the Japanese island. 

While the KC-135’s primary mission is to provide aerial refueling capability for the Air Force, it is also capable of transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations. 

From Kadena, the aircrew and medevac team flew directly to Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., in just under 15 hours. During the mission, the crew crossed the international dateline and flew through ten time zones aboard a Selfridge aircraft, during a nearly 24-hour long duty day. 

For Logsdon, medevac was one of the mission-sets that helped her decide to become a KC-135 pilot.

 “Of course, our primary mission is refueling, but that also gives us the unique capability to carry enough gas to fly for 14 plus hours, which is what this patient needed,” she said. 

When they volunteered, the aircrew had no idea what they were in for.
 “As a new aircraft commander, I wanted the experience of doing something different and challenging,” Begue said.

Different and challenging is what they got. 

While in-flight, the aircrew had to overcome the loss of the primary communication and navigation systems, after a system malfunction approximately seven hours into the flight. Typically, the aircrew would send a datalink message or make a satellite phone call during the flight so the medevac team could be in constant contact with their higher headquarters regarding the patient’s status and to get approval to administer certain procedures and medications. 

“The patient was having seizures during the flight, so when the medevac team needed to get in contact with their command, having degraded [communications] was not ideal,” Begue said.

In addition to the communications issues, the aircraft lost autopilot capabilities in-flight, requiring the pilots to constantly have their hands on the controls. 

“During long missions especially, the autopilot is a great tool to relieve pilots of the physical burden of flying the airplane, freeing up brain bytes to do other tasks, like navigation and communication,” Logsdon said. 

Upon descent into Washington D.C., the pilot had to “hand fly” the aircraft into the complex airspace surrounding the capital city, safely landing the aircraft without incident. The patient was then quickly transported into the care of medical staff capable of treating his injuries.  

“It was encouraging to see the military go to such great lengths to get a servicemember the care he needed. It helps reinforce that a human life is invaluable,” said Begue.

Established in 1912 by Clarence Mackay, then head of the Postal and Telegraph Commercial Cable Companies, the trophy is awarded for the most meritorious flight of the year performed by an Air Force military member or aircrew. The recipients are selected by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the award is sponsored by the National Aeronautical Association. Winners’ names are inscribed on the silver cup, which is housed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. 

The award is selected for the gallantry, intrepidity, unusual initiative, resourcefulness and achievement of outstanding results with unusual presence of mind under combat or noncombat conditions. Nominees of the 2020 Mackay Trophy will learn who was selected for the award in the all.

Coincidentally, while Begue, Logsdon and Kaminski waited in Washington for their aircraft to be repaired, they went on an outing to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, happening to see the Mackay Trophy on display and not knowing they would soon be nominated for it themselves.

“I am humbled [to be nominated for this award],” Logsdon said. “Honestly, this is the job I signed up to do and knowing that I was able to help someone is reward enough in itself To be recognized beyond that is pretty cool.”