They took off from a desert and landed in a numbing rain with snow in the forecast. And then, if that weren’t strange enough, they were taken to Salem. On Halloween weekend.
For the 22 Libyan fighters airlifted to Logan International Airport yesterday, the first of the injured to arrive in the United States for medical treatment after the overthrow of Moammar Khadafy’s government less than two weeks ago, it was a day of great joy and great culture shock.
The injured men, who ranged in age from 17 to 46, were whisked away in ambulances shortly after landing and did not speak to the media. When the back of the cargo plane was opened, some ran down a ramp to American soil. Some limped. Others had to be carried. But they all arrived as heroes, said Ali Aujali, the Libyan ambassador to the United States, who was there to greet them.
“I’m just so proud of them,’’ he said. “They changed the future of Libya. No one thought Khadafy could ever be overthrown. These young people made it happen. They are heroes.’’
The men are here for treatment at the Spaulding Hospital North Shore facility in Salem, which has been preparing for their arrival by training staff in the customs and religious practices of the patients. A prayer room was being designed with the help of an imam; doctors and nurses will wear name tags in Arabic; and a team of translators trained in medical terms has been brought in to explain the medications and therapies.
Their arrival coincides with the festive Halloween weekend in Salem, and David Storo, president of Spaulding, said the patients were being debriefed about the holiday on the plane in an attempt to prepare them.
“We’re going to take them on a route that will hopefully minimize their exposure,’’ Storo said of the convoy of ambulances that took the revolution fighters to the hospital.
At a press conference at the airport, Storo described a variety of injuries, ranging from gunshot wounds to musculoskeletal injuries, nerve injuries, and amputations, and anticipated the patients would be at the facility for a month or two before returning home.
Aujali, the ambassador, said the men are the first of what he anticipated to be 200 fighters who will be airlifted to the US for medical treatment.
The first batch of 30 identified by the Libyan Ministry of Health, based on their condition and available space at US facilities. The remaining eight were taken to a US military hospital in Germany and Turkey yesterday.
The medical care will be paid for by Libya’s National Transitional Council, which has been working to form a new government in the country since the killing of Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy on Oct. 20. The patients flew direct from Tripoli aboard an Air Force C-17, which was paid for by the Air Force, according to a spokesman.
Mark Ward, the State Department senior advisor for Arab transitions, said the plan to move the patients happened quickly, following a visit last week by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the country.
“She was taken with what she saw and made a commitment: ‘We’re going to do what we can to help,’ ’’ he said.
“We’ve spent the past week identifying the patients with a Libyan doctor, talking with them, and giving them some exposure to what they could expect when they arrived.’’
The fighters will be housed together in a private unit within the 120-bed facility.
At a podium shortly before the flight landed, Aujali said the medical assistance was indicative of a new cooperation between the two countries.
“This represents how much the Americans are supporting the Libyans,’’ he said, “not only during the war but during the peace.’’
Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.