A Minnesota Air National Guard officer who helped treat more than 20 patients during the chaotic August 2021 evacuation of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan will receive the Distinguished Flying Cross this Saturday.
Major Katie Lunning, a flight nurse with the 133rd Airlift Wing, was among the military personnel who responded to the deadly bombing attack at Abbey Gate, which killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 160 Afghan civilians on August 26, 2021, amid the U.S. military withdrawal from the country
“Captain Lunning’s exceptional leadership, dedication, and medical expertise were pivotal to the medical evacuation of twenty-two multinational and joint service casualties, including five ventilated patients and multiple Afghan evacuees,” reads Lunning’s award citation. “Captain Lunning performed patient triage and intake while operating under continued small arms fire as well as significant and imminent threat of attack.”
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In August 2021, Lunning was deployed with the 379th Aeromedical Expeditionary Evacuation Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as a flight nurse with a Critical Care Transport Team. The team was quickly mobilized to respond to the bombing.
“We were pulling them out as they are getting injured,” said Lunning in a Department of Veterans Affairs release. “August 26th, when the suicide bomber exploded at Abbey Gate, we were the first CCATT 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,” she added. “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].”
According to the award citation, Lunning identified a two-year-old patient with a traumatic brain injury who required emergency intravenous access and managed an inflight blood transfusion of a critically wounded patient.
“Captain Lunning provided sustained inflight medical care for over eight hours, culminating in all twenty-two lives saved during the single largest aeromedical evacuation in Kabul Coalition Hospital’s history,” reads the citation.
Lunning’s Distinguished Flying Cross includes the “C” device, which is awarded for “exceptionally meritorious service or achievement performed under combat conditions on or after Jan. 7, 2016.”
Lunning is also the first National Guard flight nurse to ever receive the Distinguished Flying Cross and one of the few flight nurses across the U.S. military to ever receive the award. Captain Leslie Green received the award in November 2022, for helping deliver a baby during an evacuation flight from Kabul.
“[In that moment] I was really just focusing on the job,” Lunning said in an Air Force release. “We kind of came up with a mantra. We would say, ‘We can’t control what’s happening on the ground and what we can control is our jobs.’ So, we focused very much on getting people home.”
“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,” she added. “We talked about that and how it was our role to get them back to their reason for being there.”
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