Marines save patients waiting to board USNS Comfort in NYC.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Austin Loppe, left, and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Colton Flach, right, are assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force as part of a Marine security detachment supporting Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20).
(Photo by Navy Ensign James Caliva)

A pair of U.S. Marines sprang into action earlier in April, taking decisive action in New York. The Marines’ quick thinking and immediate response saved the lives of patients waiting to board the USNS Comfort.

Marines Save Patients Aboard USNS Comfort in NYC

The incident began on April 7 when a local hospital evacuated during an emergency situation. The evacuation sent 10 ambulances to the Comfort all at once. Suddenly, the normally empty Comfort became inundated with patients. That’s when Sgt. Austin Loppe, while he and his Marines pulled security, identified one patient rapidly deteriorating, according to a Navy release. The patient’s oxygen tank ran dangerously low, so Loppe and his Marines jumped into action.

“Us being infantry Marines, we’re all trained in Combat Lifesaver/Tactical Combat Casualty Care,” Loppe said. “You need oxygen to survive. And even just going a couple minutes without oxygen, the human brain starts losing function and having permanent brain damage for life. So that wasn’t something that myself or any of my Marines were willing to let happen to an American citizen. So we knew right away that we needed to get them linked up with the medical team as quickly as possible.”

Loppe and his Marines immediately halted traffic into and off the pier. They then directed the ambulance to the head of the line, getting that patient immediately to Navy medical staff. The action cut 15 minutes of wait time for the patient, advancing the ambulance down the half-mile-long pier.

History Repeats Itself

Then 10 minutes later, it happened again. Marines recognized another ambulance contained a patient running out of oxygen. Again, Loppe’s Marines directed traffic and safely advanced the patient to medical help.

“To be able to help New York and Americans in general is pretty awesome,” said Loppe, who is from Mingo Junction, Ohio.

But the night wasn’t over for these Marines working security. Again, ambulances brought patients to the pier, critically low on oxygen. So members of the security team ran several hundred meters, taking tanks to where patients arrived.

Lance Cpl. Colton Flach credited teamwork to saving lives that night. He said the Marines on the pier, along with Navy and NYC police, worked together to make it happen.

“They’re with us 24-7 on post,” Flach said. “And the moment that we had got that call, I knew that I could count on them to be able to do whatever I needed them to do, and we would do whatever we could to help them as well to get these patients the medical attention that they needed as fast as possible.”

Company Commander Capt. Peter Hofinga recognized the Marines’ courage under a different type of fire. He credited the Marines’ ability to adapt and overcome.

“It’s kind of hard to put in words. It’s immensely humbling to observe the Marines and actions that small-unit leaders are making, rapid decisions on their own without any sort of tasking or supervision,” Hofinga said. “Despite the fact that this is not really in their typical task group, or what they trained to do, they are able to operate within that friction and chaos to help both the Navy-Marine Corps team overall as well as New York City residents.”

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