This is the story of the Army's response to the disaster on Green Ramp at Pope Air Force Base on 23 March 1994. Professionalism, training, and teamwork turned an essentially tragic story into a triumphant one: Twenty-four paratroopers perished, but more than a hundred were saved. A quick-reaction mission and numerous deployments made it possible for Fort Bragg's elite XVIII Airborne Corps and its 82d Airborne Division and 44th Medical Brigade, as well as Womack Army Medical Center, to respond rapidly and effectively to the crisis. Training and teamwork also worked for Fort Sam Houston, Brooke Army Medical Center, and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, where the severely burned received care. The narrative focuses on the immediate response to the accident, medical treatment of the burn victims, command and control at emergency operations centers, family assistance, and the survivors themselves. The roles of mental health specialists, chaplains, public affairs officers, and Army leaders are also examined.

The idea for this study originated with Army Chief of Staff General Gordon R. Sullivan, who, after visiting the injured paratroopers at Fort Bragg several days after the incident, tasked the Center of Military History to capture the story of the Army's response. In April and May 1994 an Army history team, consisting of historians from the 44th Military History Detachment, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the Center of Military History, interviewed participants in the response at Fort Bragg and Fort Sam Houston. One year later Brig. Gen. John W. Mountcastle, the Center's chief of military history, gave the writing project a top priority, and work commenced on it in May 1995.

Special acknowledgments must be made to many individuals for their unstinting support in the preparation of this book. For conducting the oral histories and for collecting the bulk of supporting documents on which this study is based, I am indebted to the Army history team— Maj. Christopher G. Clark and Sgt. Patricia Lewis of the 44th Military History Detachment, Col. Mary T. Sarnecky, ANC, of the Office of the Surgeon General and Lt. Col. Iris J. West, ANC, the team leader and my former colleague at the Center, who was invaluable to me in selecting the most informative of the oral histories for my use. And to Col. Stephen L. Jones, MC, the former deputy commander of Womack Army Medical Center, who assisted immeasurably, I express my gratitude. He guided me around Fort Brag and the Womack Army Medical Center; saw to it that Womack's various departments worte after-action reports, which he collected and gave to me; and was instrumental in my obtaining the after-action reports of Brooke Army Medical Center and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research.

My understanding of the events benefited greatly from the perceptive comments and constructive suggestions of many reviewers. For graciously reading all or parts of my manuscript, I extend my sincere thanks to not only the participants in the Army's response—Colonel Jones, Maj. Gen. William M. Steele, Pam Steele, Col. Elisabeth Greenfield, Margaret Tippy, Joseph Hibst, and Cynthia Hayden—but also to my fellow historians at the Center—General Mountcastle, Dr. Jeffery J. Clarke, Dr. Edward J. Drea, and especially Dr. Robert K. Wright, the former XVIII Airborne Corps historian. Their insights were pivotal to the development of my narrative.

The contributions of my talented colleagues at the Center are deserving of praise. Maj. Curtis E. Croom collected data on the twenty-four deceased paratroopers, located photographs, and prepared initial sketches. Sherry L. Dowdy used her cartographic skills to create the map; John Birmingham, his creative talents to design the cover; Arthur S. Hardyman and Beth F. MacKenzie, their desktop publishing art to craft the book; and W. Scott Janes, his eagle eyes to proofread the text. Finally, Joanne M. Brignolo edited the volume. Her literary skills, meticulousness, and hard work have made this a better study. By putting her heart and soul into this project, she helped me to improve the narrative flow and to meet the short deadline.

Many other individuals also merit special recognition: M. Sgt. Vickie L. Freed and S. Sgt. Marjorie A. Bottila of the U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Center, in St. Louis, Missouri, Linda Bowman and Charlotte R. Guy of the Army Reference Branch, National Personnel Records Center, National Archives and Records Administration, in St. Louis, Missouri, and Joyce Dabbs of the Separation Records Branch, U.S. Army Enlisted Records, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, for verifying the information in the Appendix; Pete Peterson of the Officer Records Branch, Personnel Information Management Division, U.S. Total Army Personnel Command, for making it possible to locate two of the participants; Lt. Col. Jane Boyd, a Signal Corps officer on the Army Staff, for explaining the satellite communications system used by the 82d Airborne Division liaison team; and Hope Ramirez, Christopher J. Burson, Jacob T. Naeyaert, Jr., Spc. Michael P. Fletcher, C. Craig Corey, William F. McManus, Col. Elisabeth Greenfield, Margaret Tippy, Anne McChrystal, Maj. James B. Rich, and MAJ. Gerald K. Bebber for donating their personal photographs.

All of the people above gave generously of their time, knowledge, skill, and property to help me tell this compelling story. In doing so, we willingly became team members in the Army's response to the disaster on Green Ramp. I deeply regret that I could not tell everyone's story, but trust that this book contributes to the healing process. For any errors remaining in the volume, I alone am responsible.

Washington, D.C.
1 April 1996


page updated 30 May 2001

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