Helicopter crew dodges bullets, earn combat awards
January 9, 2009
LANDSTUHL, Germany - The right side of the helicopter, where Sgt. Ian Barlet was keeping his eyes on the ground, drew most of the fire that early evening on Jan. 19, 2007 in Iraq when a flight crew from Charlie Company (Air Ambulance) of the 214th Aviation Regiment was trying to evacuate three wounded Marines.
"It's not something you feel everyday - you've just got to do what you got to do," said Barlet, the mission's flight crew chief, recalling his emotions during this almost half-an-hour landing attempt. "You've got to accept the fact that it is there - be fast and not get shot."
For their actions during this mission, Barlet was awarded the Combat Action Badge and Combat Flight Medic Sgt. Billy Raines earned the Combat Medic Badge during a welcome home ceremony Dec. 11 at the company's headquarters on Landstuhl Heliport, located near the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
"My guys got to see the whole spectrum during our 15-month deployment - from these two crewmembers who were under fire on the ground to those who coordinated with three other MEDAVAC (medical evacuation) companies to evacuate the wife of one of the Sheiks who led the Anbar Awakening, across two-thirds of Iraq," said Maj. Andy Risio, the C/1-214th Avn. Regt. commander. Started in 2005, the Anbar Awakening is an alliance of Sunni Arab tribes that opposed al-Qaeda in Iraq and united to help maintain security.
Raines remembers that it was a seven-to-10-minute flight to the pickup zone during this mission in January and that they tried to make two attempts before coming in for their first actual landing.
"But, where we landed - it was too hot for us to stay on ground so we had to reposition - hovering for about 20 minutes before we could land about 300 meters north of our initial landing," said Raines.
While Barlet kept "his eyes on the ground" covering security for his medic and aircraft, Raines and ground forces loaded two of the Marines into the Utility Helicopter-60 Black Hawk. The other Marine was killed in action.
Barlet learned from the debriefing that the Marines had been injured by a blast from an improvised explosive device, and Raines found out later that one of the two Marines evacuated had died.
Assigned to the Multi National Forces-West, Charlie Company evacuated more than 1,800 patients and flew 3,995 hours in support of Coalition Forces. The company's petroleum, oils and lubricants section pumped more than 400,000 gallons of fuel.
"I had operation crews who received every call for missions - any hour of the day or night - from four remote sites," said Risio. "My mechanics maintained a 90 percent operational readiness rate for the entire length of the tour."
A remarkable feat said Risio, given that the company's aircraft fleet of 12 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters was 23 years old or older and had been in the desert for two tours - at least 27 months.
"We weren't as worried about someone shooting us down as we were about having to land for maintenance or a malfunction out in the middle of the desert, 200 miles from nowhere," said Risio, adding that many of the company's missions lasted three to four hours, often doing what they call a "tail-to-tail" with another one of their aircrafts.
Barlet and Raines were paired up throughout the deployment, completing more than 100 missions together. Charlie Company deployed to Iraq in July 2007 and returned home Nov. 2, 2008.
"We did that last mission in October as professional, disciplined and by the book as we did the first mission - 15 months earlier in August, a year-and-a-half previously," said Risio.
The company just celebrated its 40th anniversary during this deployment, serving tours in Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Charlie Company has been based in Landstuhl since Oct. 15, 1989.