GERMANY (WIS) - Germany is home to the largest military hospital outside the United States. WIS' Craig Melvin has glimpsed a rare look at the men and women fighting the War on Terror.
WIS' cameras captured stretcher after stretcher - soldier after soldier. Forty-eight hours ago, most were in Iraq. A few were in Afghanistan. All have seen war, some death.
"It was too bad that he died. It hurts. Everybody liked him. He was a good guy. He was a good Marine. I liked him a lot. I miss him," says Lance Corporal Abe Herling.
Some soldiers cry over what they've lost. Others, like Lexington native Captain Dale Porter, over what they miss. "Those moments when you have a couple of hours with nothing to do, it's hard not to think about your loved ones."
Some who have lost so much cry when they get something, like a quilt made by people in South Carolina.
Air Force Staff Sergeant Juan Moreno, 28, lives in Charleston. This is Moreno's fifth deployment, so he holds it together better than he used to. But certain things still get to him. "The worst are burn injuries 'cause just the smell, and knowing that somebody is suffering constantly. It's tough."
We found Walterboro native Kashta Campbell at Landstul Regional Medical Center in Germany. The 32-year-old will have surgery on his ruptured Achilles.
Physically, Campbell will be fine in about a year, but after six months in Iraq, he's sure the nightmares will last much longer. "I mean I don't understand the children portion. It's something I will never forget," he says. "There are a lot of children being wounded or injured."
Andrew Harriman, 23, is part of the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Harriman also has horror stories, "Trucks have hit anti-tank mines. The Iraqi armor trucks that have no armor on them - just body pieces everywhere."
It's not just those on the battlefield who see the hell that is war. "We can go into warzones with the capabilities to be able to go in and get patients out, which is what we're doing right now," says Captain Paul Thompson.
Thompson gets the war wounded from the field to the hospital. He tells WIS about the job, "Just last month, we had three Marines in critical condition to the point they were not sure whether they were going to make it from Iraq to Germany."
Thompson flies a C-17, five stories tall and as long as half a football field. The $200 million aircraft is the Air Force's premier cargo jet, but it doubles as a hospital in the air.
The worst he's seen is "the young kids come through with these injuries that are life-altering."
"To me, these kids are my kids' age, and it's really heartbreaking to see that."
One 20-year-old Army specialist had his left foot amputated in Iraq two days ago. His right ankle's mangled so badly it might have to be amputated. Screws hold his left hip together.
Right beneath him, a 21-year-old Marine based out of Camp Lejune. Shrapnel from a suicide bomb in Iraq nearly killed him. He's lucky to just have a broken leg. Both are expected to survive, but they're still in the part of the plane reserved for those who require constant medical monitoring during flight.
Captain Julio Lairet runs the critical care air transport team. "When we have a CCAT team on the aircraft, it becomes a flying intensive care unit."
The most critical soldier was shot in the abdomen three days ago by an Iraqi insurgent. Lairet tells WIS' Craig Melvin about the soldier's injuries, "He had a kidney removed, had some bowel removed. He does have his airways protected. There's an endotrachial tube in place. He is on a ventilator right now. He also has fractures to his spine."
He's had two major surgeries in two days. He'll have his third surgery at Walter Reed when he lands in a few hours. That's also when Doctor Lairet will have to tell his family it's worse than they thought. "For me, emotionally, the most difficult part is looking down at the troops and seeing how young they are."
Another soldier just turned 22 and is flying in a medically-induced coma with his chest wide-open. "He's got a long recovery in front of him," says Doctor Lairet. But the doctor insists the soldier will make it. It's tough to tell whether it's confidence or denial.
While amazingly, he's never lost one in the air, it's difficult to look at the soldier in the coma and hear what's happened to him and not think even if he makes it, life as he knew it will never be the same. Lairet told Craig he's so hopeful because he's seen it over and over, wounded warriors who board this plane with little chance - eventually making it, seeing the miracles.
For those who see what war does everyday, that's one way they cope.
Another way, Lairet says, "The squadron here, we really do rely on each other. We fly as crews and that's really important because we take care of each other."
To cope, most Craig talked to get help. One soldier says, "I believe in a Higher Power and that gives me the strength, I guess, to give."
Another says, "I go to church a lot. I'm a Catholic. I am very religious. I go to church on base here every Sunday. If I'm not flying that mission, I'll be there at church."
Ron is a Las Vegas National Guardsman. It's takes a while to understand him - not just because he cries to cope too, but the bomb that went off in Ramadi shook his brain. He has what's called a traumatic brain injury, and so do all three kids on the c-17. So does one in five who return wounded from war.
Captain Steven Flagherty says, "Some of them may eventually get back to normal function, but most of them probably do not and they will always have some measurable defect."
Reported by Craig Melvin