BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- When Maj. Wayne Vaughn looked down at the injured 12-year-old girl clinging to life on a litter loaded in his C-130 Hercules, he thought, "How can they do this? How can they try and kill a little girl?"
Taliban extremists had bombed a girls school in Herat in eastern Afghanistan on June 18, killing four and injuring 11.
The girl had a broken back and collarbone, head injuries and was in critical condition.
Major Vaughn, a navigator, immediately thought about his three daughters at home. When he returned from the mission, he planned to call them because it was Father's Day.
For the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron aircrew, all from an Air National Guard unit in Fort Worth, Texas, the day started much like every other day, with orders to fly distinguished visitors, soldiers, supplies and equipment around Afghanistan.
During the last leg of the mission, after loading half a dozen passengers, they cranked up their four engines and began to roll across the ramp when the control tower squawked a message over the radio.
The air traffic controller asked if the crew could wait five minutes for an emergency medical evacuation.
Try as they might, the aircrew couldn't reach any higher authorities to get authorization to fly the mission. They were also pressing the limit on the amount of time they were authorized to fly that day.
When they learned it was a 12-year-old patient, they looked at each other and knew what they had to do. The aircraft commander, Maj. Tim Gibbons, made the final call.
The father of two boys, ages 12 and 9, said, "Let's do it."
"We were going to do it no matter what, even if we got in trouble," Major Gibbons said. "We were tired, but we weren't exhausted. The (International Security Assistance Force) told us we were her last chance."
ISAF is a NATO organization whose goal is to help Afghanistan reach a self-sustaining peace and security.
For the C-130 aircrew, the ISAF involvement meant more communication problems.
"In the back of the plane, we had Americans, Italians, Spaniards and Albanians," Major Gibbons said, "and only the Italian doctor could speak English."
Also, loadmasters Master Sgt. Justin Vogel and Staff Sgt. Justin Bell had to reconfigure the aircraft so it could handle the litter.
The 90-minute flight to Kabul was uneventful. When they landed, an ambulance whisked the little girl away.
When the aircrew returned here, they made Father's Day calls home.
"It was good to call home and realize that my children are not in the same world as the kids here," Major Gibbons said, "but missions like that make these deployments worth it."