An officer with the Minnesota National Guard is set to be awarded the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during the collapse of Afghanistan when U.S. troops worked frantically to evacuate as many allies as possible as the Taliban took over the country.
Maj. Katie Lunning, who is assigned to the 133rd Airlift Wing, will be presented with the award Saturday, according to a press release from the National Guard. She'll be the second nurse ever to have earned the award and the first in the National Guard.
Lunning and her team rescued and cared for at least 20 patients in the aftermath of the attack on Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport, a suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. troops and at least 160 Afghan civilians.
"We were pulling them out as they are getting injured," Lunning said in a Department of Veterans Affairs press release. "August 26th, when the suicide bomber exploded at Abbey Gate, we were the first [critical care air transport team] in. It was the largest medical evacuation out of that coalition hospital ever, and very dangerous on the ground. We had to leave the airplane to go get our patients as well. We took injured Marines and Afghan civilians who really weren't flight worthy, but there was no choice. We just had to get them out of there. So, a lot of medical events occurred on the airplane, but we ended up being able to safely deliver everybody to Landstuhl, Germany [for further medical care]."
Lunning was serving as a member of a Critical Care Transport Team during her six-month deployment based in Qatar. Those teams usually consist of three service members who are tasked with caring for critically injured or ill patients, providing care during flights to hospitals. In most cases when flights originate out of the Middle East, patients end up in Germany.
When not in uniform, Lunning works as an intensive care nurse manager for the VA in Des Moines, Iowa.
"We focused very much on getting people home," she said in the release. "We all have kids right around the same age that we wanted to get home to. So, we just focused on getting everybody home to their people because everybody's going to have a why, right? We talked about that and how it was our role to get them back to their reason for being there."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.