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Bragg tries to turn Green Ramp disaster into teaching tool

Posted March 22

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— Twenty-four Fort Bragg soldiers were killed and more than 100 were injured 23 years ago, when two airplanes collided over what was then Pope Air Force Base, sending a ball of fire into a crowd of soldiers on the ground.

On Wednesday, about 300 medical personnel were at Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg to discuss what has been learned since the March 23, 1994, tragedy about treating soldiers during a mass causality event.

Richard Clapp and Jay Nelson were among the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers preparing for a training exercise on Fort Bragg's Green Ramp that day when a giant fireball came rolling through an open-bay building filled with about 500 soldiers after the wreckage of an F-16 fighter jet that collided mid-air with a C-130 transport plane hit a C-141 cargo jet on the ground.

"A log was on his leg there, and so I went over to try and help him, not realizing I was still on fire," Clapp said. "Another soldier tackled me to put me out."

Both men suffered extensive burns, and their scars still remind them of how lucky they are to be alive.

"Folks were hurt. Some people were still on fire. We were trying to get people put out. We were trying to figure out how to get those of us that were hurt – some of us that were hurt really badly didn't know how badly we were hurt – over here to Womack so that we could get our care," Nelson said.

One lesson that stood out to those attending Wednesday's conference was that mass causality care extends beyond the day of the event and the patient who is injured.

"They do the immediate lifesaving – stabilize, transfer – but then the follow-up, not only for the patient but for the staff, for the families, for the commands, that takes much longer," said Marsha Lunt, emergency management director at Womack.

The crash also helped strengthen communications between Fort Bragg and first responders in the communities surrounding the post, many of whom responded that day to get help to the soldiers in need.

"We're good at what we do, and we get better by sharing with each other the lessons that we've learned, going back and kind of agonizing over what we didn't do so well and then finding out what those gaps are and those weaknesses are and strengthening them," Nelson said.

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