Monday, 14 January 2008
In a scene all too familiar to US Servicemen past and present, a UH-60 MEDEVAC Helicopter, always call signed Dust-off, evacuates US Army Paratroopers and Afghan Army soldiers who were ambushed near Forward Operating Base Bella in November.
The team of soldiers, comprised of Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, soldiers from the Afghan National Army, and two Afghan interpreters, had traveled less than 2 miles on foot to a nearby town of Aranas in the mountainous Nuristan Province. They set out early in the morning for what was supposed to be a positive and productive day of Shuras with local government officials and elders from surrounding villages. The terrain was unforgiving and impossible to pass in vehicles. The distance was short, yet time consuming to navigate, especially on foot and with the weight the modern day soldier carries. After the day’s activities were finished in Aranas, the combined team set out for their return foot march back to Forward Operating Base Bella. The mountains of the area, scattered with cliffs and valleys, offered a hideout for Taliban insurgents who waited for the opportune moment to attack the team of US and Afghan Soldiers returning to base.
As a result of the attack by Taliban fighters, the combined team of Paratroopers and Afghan Soldiers sustained great loses. At that point, and after the area was secured, Dust-off leaped into action, and conducted what ended up being a 31 hour medical evacuation mission consisting of multiple lifts and eight separate air crews. The crews’ undying determination and commitment to their missions would not allow them to give up on their tasks.
Consider this scenario: The Crew Chief operates the hoist, as he pulls a casualty into the aircraft. This is a one person operation that is difficult to perform when the casualty is in a SKED, especially when the casualty has the added weight of body armor and equipment. The Medic rides the hoist to the ground and back up, time and time again. Imagine performing this operation 20-25 continuous times wearing Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), the Crew Chief continuing to advise the pilots of aircraft drift and rotor clearance as the mountain side is dangerously close. He ensures the hoist is ready for the next lift and watches the Medics hand and arm signals as he also directs the positioning of the aircraft. It becomes apparent this task is physically exhausting and difficult to master in routine conditions, let alone this punishing-unforgiving terrain at night.
The cabin of the aircraft becomes crowded, and the difficulty the Crew Chief and the Medic have maneuvering recovered personnel inside becomes increasingly challenging. Dust-off has a crew of 4: Pilot, Copilot, Crew Chief, and Medic. During one of the earlier MEDEVAC missions the previous night, Dust-off, with its normal crew of 4, extracted 8 casualties, and 1 non-injured soldier in a single lift for a total of 13 on board. That operation was conducted under zero-lunar-illumination NVG conditions with no supplemental lighting used in the rear of the aircraft due to the tactical situation, adding dramatically to the level of difficulty.
Dust-off departed the pick-up (PZ) zone after 31 combined hours of medical evacuation, and without further incident. Dust-off was PZ clean.
The footage shows specific details that will serve to highlight the importance of the training of our combat medics to include live hoist training program so that flight medics and MEDEVAC crews are better prepared to deal with unexpected circumstances during incidents like these. Anyone that has operated in this environment understands the difficulty of the job these heroes do for us on a moments notice without hesitation under trying conditions and daunting circumstances. Not once do they ask for gratitude or thanks. Had this mission not been captured by the AH-64 gun cameras, this would have been another example of selfless service occurring in this battle space on a daily basis that we never get to hear about and from countless service members across the spectrum; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and our Civilian brethren included. Combined Joint Task Force 82 (CJTF-82) would like honor these unsung heroes as our heroes of the week. This is our thank you from the Joint Task Force for all the things they do to protect us on a daily basis, to include the professionalism, selfless service and dedication to duty in our final hours, not just for us, but our Afghanistan National Army heroes as well.