'Almost impossible mission': The 8,000-mile nonstop flight to save a US soldier's life

The Taliban have stepped up attacks across Afghanistan after President Trump scrapped high-level peace talks between Afghan and Taliban leaders at Camp David earlier this month.

This week alone, three major suicide bombings killed dozens of people, including 26 at a campaign rally for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban claimed responsibility for all of them.

Seventeen U.S. troops have been killed in combat in Afghanistan this year and more than 100 have been wounded -- some of them severely.  One of them -- a special operations soldier -- lost his right arm and leg last month after a grenade exploded during close-quarters combat.

Three military aircraft, 18 medical personnel, 24,000 gallons of fuel and 26 gallons of blood were spent to save the life of this critically wounded soldier, whom Fox News agreed not to identify at the request of the U.S. military.

Officials credit a recent decision to have all assault forces carry units of blood on the battlefield, as well as the lifesaving surgery the soldier received at Bagram Airbase.

More than 100 troops stood in line outside the base hospital to donate blood to help their wounded brother-in-arms. Then the Air Force sprang into action to bring him home.

A C-17 flight crew based at Dover Air Force Base flew from Germany to Afghanistan on short notice, then made the 8,000-mile non-stop journey home to Texas.


"The crew members on board, we knew what was at stake," said Maj.  Dan Kudlacz, the aircraft commander for the mission dubbed REACH 797. "I know I didn't really get great sleep the night prior."

The mission required two nighttime mid-air refuelings, one over Europe and the other over Maine, with KC-135s from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., providing the fuel. For Kudlacz, it was the first time this type of mission had been attempted in his career.

"To do it with air medical evacuation patients on board was definitely something that I have never heard of," he said.

“There was quite a bit of critical urgency to this,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Hathaway, the C-17 loadmaster.  “You could hear in their voice the stress of the pilots when they were calculating the fuel.”

C-17 crew chief Staff Sgt. Terrance Williamson said there was no question the flight was a high priority.

“We knew we had to get this done,” he told Fox News. “We could make this almost impossible mission happen."


Nineteen hours after taking off from Afghanistan, the C-17 landed in San Antonio to transport the soldier to Brooke Army Medical Center.  The Air Force flight crew had completed their mission without breaking the sacred oath among U.S. forces in combat.

“You can expect that we, being the United States military, are going to do everything that we can in our power and we are going to spare no expense to bring you home,” Kudlacz said.

The soldier was still in critical condition Friday night.

Fox News’s Ben Florance and Mary Beth Hughes contributed to this report