Reservists return home after saving lives in Afghanistan

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By Valerie Hurst, KATU News and KATU.com Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. - A C-17 plane carrying 21 men from Afghanistan to Portland Tuesday morning arrived about an hour late, but that didn't stop the fanfare.

The Air Force Reservists spent the past four months providing medical support to almost 200 combat missions in Afghanistan. Their valor has earned them the title as the highest-trained trauma specialists in the U.S. Air Force and officials credit 97 saved lives as a result of their efforts.

Families and friends of these members of Oregon's 304th Rescue Squadron were at the front gates of the Air National Guard Base near Portland International Airport to greet the returning soldiers. As the plane arrived at 6:40 a.m., the crowd cheered - waving "My daddy is a hero" signs and "Welcome home" balloons.

“Daddy, daddy!” one little girl squealed as her father, Capt. Chris Bernard, de-boarded. Then she ran into his arms.
 
"I've been dreaming about this since I was over there ... this moment," said Bernard, the Oregon City man who led the 304th Rescue Squadron. "It's incredible to be home."

As Bernard's girls talk about where to go for breakfast, Squadron Operations Manager John Graver, from Vancouver, reminisced about his time in the war zone.

"The mission provided medical care to wounded personnel who might not get to see their children again," Graver said. "It was very busy, but very fulfilling. The motto 'so that others may live' is what all these men live by. We save lives and aid the injured."

Now, Graver will be spending time with family and enjoying the Northwest weather: "It’s about 70 degrees cooler than it was in Afghanistan," Graver said. "Nice."

In the past two months, they conducted 186 missions - sending their helicopters over hostile territory to bring teams of two airmen each to service members injured and isolated in combat. Without medical evacuation, many of those soldiers would have lost their eyesight, their limbs or their lives.

Members of the 304th Rescue Squadron now will serve locally as paramedics or on search and rescue teams like those dispatched to Mount Hood. Special Forces members like these 21 men must earn and maintain an emergency medical technician paramedic qualification throughout their careers.

"This medical and rescue expertise, along with their deployment and combat capabilities, allows PJs to perform life-saving missions anywhere in the world, at any time," the Air National Guard said in a press release.

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