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Hawaii airlifters return from infant-medevac mission

204th Airlift Squadron Airmen, Master Sgt. Brandon Sarceda, Senior Master Sgt. Kale Barney, Maj. Kalei Ho’opai, Capt. Justin Sato, Tech. Sgt. Sean Chang, and a member of the 535th AS, 1st Lt. Andrew Lightsinn, celebrate their arrival at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 31, after completing a 41-hour aeromedical-evacuation mission.

204th Airlift Squadron Airmen, Master Sgt. Brandon Sarceda, Senior Master Sgt. Kale Barney, Maj. Kalei Ho’opai, Capt. Justin Sato, Tech. Sgt. Sean Chang, and a member of the 535th AS, 1st Lt. Andrew Lightsinn, celebrate their arrival at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 31, after completing a 41-hour aeromedical-evacuation mission. The crew transported prematurely born twins from Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, culminating in care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for advanced care. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --

An aircrew from the 204th Airlift Squadron returned home March 31, after completing a 41-hour aeromedical-evacuation mission which brought prematurely born twins to higher medical care.

The twins, Parker and Laine McFall, were born February 17 at 30 weeks in Daegu’s Yeungnam Medical University Medical Center, Republic of Korea, near their family’s U.S. Army home station. Without an available neonatal care facility at any military hospitals within the region, the only option was to transport them to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, nearly 7,000 miles away.

In order to safely make the journey from South Korea to the east coast, the airlift crew, comprised of Hawaii Air National Guard Airmen and a pilot from the 15th Wing, stopped at Kadena Air Base, Japan, where Neonatal Critical Care Air Transport Team and equipment was loaded onto their C-17 Loadmaster III.

Both, the medically augmented airlift team and the McFall family converged at Osan Air Base, ROK. Prior to boarding the aircraft, the family was medically cleared and protected from the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

While airlift professionals are trained to carry out each mission with the same high-levels of focus, one loadmaster found himself to be more inspired than usual. Master Sgt. Brandon Sarceda, a father of two prematurely born twins, had lived through the same crisis and couldn’t help his feelings of empathy and nostalgia. Sarceda said he hoped that sharing his personal story with the McFall family would help encourage them throughout the ordeal.

“Seeing how delicate this mission was, yeah, it really hit me when I spoke to the father, which reminded me of us back when,” said Sarceda. “But once again, we all pushed that to the side, did the job, carried and pushed some heavy equipment up and down that ramp.”

The C-17 and its precious cargo departed for Maryland March 29, with a fuel stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alsaska. Within 16 and-a-half hours of leaving South Korea, the McFall family finally arrived at Joint Base Andrews, a short drive away from the Walter Reed Medical Center, where long-term neonatal care awaits.

At the helm of the aircraft, Capt. Justin Sato, 204th AS pilot, said he also related to strong family values as the mission was carried out.

“I think for any aeromedical mission we always want to help in any way possible,” said Sato. “I try to take it from a perspective of ‘what if that was my family’ and that always motivates me to get the job done.”

While the fundamental aspects of training missions and real-world missions are more-or-less the same for aircrew, it’s moments that impact lives which make it all worthwhile.

“As far as execution goes,” said Sarceda, “this mission is no different than any other mission throughout my career; a little more ‘chicken-skin,’ yes, but we somehow manage to push aside all that, and finish strong. This is our job, zero tolerance for error, and this is what Pueos live for.”