Air Ambulance Team Awarded for Daring Rescue
January 30, 2007
TIKRIT, Iraq, Jan. 29, 2007 - When the soldiers from the 68th Medical Company made a promise last March they may not have known what it would take to keep their word.
"The 1-14th Field Artillery's battalion commander had been in to see us several times," recalled Staff Sgt. Bryan Resh, the ranking flight medic that day. "He seemed really concerned about the whole evac situation and prepping his guys for combat in Iraq. We reassured him several times that if anything happened, we'd be able to get these guys out."
Soldiers from 1-14th Field Artillery had been training for the upcoming deployment at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island of Hawaii.
When something did go wrong late in the afternoon of March 10, 2006, the crew of Dustoff 77 kept their promise and distinguished themselves by risking their lives and their aircraft to save the lives of their fellow soldiers.
"The weather was marginal at best," Resh said. "When the team received the call, which reported six soldiers down after a mortar round had exploded in its tube, cloud ceilings were below 300 feet, and visibility was less than one mile, Resh said. And there was even worse weather between them and the training area."
Weather conditions were so bad that the crew had to decide whether or not they would be able to perform the evacuation, Resh said.
"We're talking on the internal comms in the aircraft," Resh said, "and we decide that even though the weather was (not the best), we could not just sit there and not attempt to help, since we had made the promises that we could do it."
So, they lifted off and headed for the accident site. After successfully navigating to the training area, the crew found that their landing zone was packed with ground vehicles.
"It was very crowded, very congested," Resh said. "There was lots of chaos. We wound up landing in an area that was not designated for us to land. It was in front of the mortar tubes."
As soon as the aircraft was on the ground, Resh was out and assisting the ground medics at the scene. Then he was forced to make a decision.
Six soldiers lay wounded from the explosion, but the helicopter only had room to carry four. Fortunately, Resh had thought ahead.
"Knowing that I would only be able to take or load four and care for four patients when this call came in, I immediately told range control to go ahead to dispatch the fire department, the ground ambulance that's out there," Resh said. "I'd evaluate the situation and give them the two least injured patients."
Once the patients were loaded, the pilots lifted off into heavy cloud cover.
"It was the only way we could get out of there," Resh said. "We didn't have a control tower watching us under radar takeoff tell to us where to fly. So we just picked up, climbed."
The helicopter headed immediately to the hospital located at Hilo, which is the primary trauma care facility on the island, Resh said.
As the aircraft fought its way through the dangerous weather, the crew faced a new problem.
"By the time we get over there and with the delay on the ground and weather conditions, we were approaching critical fuel levels," Resh said.
In addition, weather was so bad that the airport at Hilo, which was just a mile ahead of the hospital, was closed to all traffic, Resh said.
The airport made an emergency opening for the helicopter, though, and the pilots made their approach.
"They told me afterwards that they didn't think they were going to be able to land because they couldn't see the ground," Resh said. "They couldn't see the runway, couldn't see the lights." But then with about 200 feet left in their approach, what some might call a miracle happened.
"The weather just broke in clear," Resh said. "We were able to follow the runway down, hop over the trees and land at the hospital, and as soon as we landed visibility just dropped, another set of clouds rolled in and we weren't flying anywhere."
Once on the ground, Resh and the rest of the crew worked quickly to get the injured soldiers into the hospital.
This is where the pilots and the rest of the crew distinguished themselves, Resh said.
"We had really overwhelmed the hospital," Resh said.
While hospital staff worked on the two most severely injured soldiers, the pilots and crew of the helicopter sat with the other two wounded to provide supportive care.
Sadly, despite the efforts of the flight crew and the hospital staff, Staff Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez, one of the wounded soldiers, succumbed to his injuries and passed away at the hospital.
Hospital staff members were able to perform surgery on the other severely critical patient and stabilize him, Resh said.
Then came another tough decision.
The stabilized soldier couldn't stay at the hospital in Hilo.
"It came down to, 'We can't leave him here because we can't care for him and his wounds, but the patient transfer to O'ahu may kill him,'" Resh said.
Ultimately, it was decided to take the soldier back to O'ahu. Not only did he survive the flight, but he would eventually recover from his wounds.
"Three days later, he gets up and walks out of ICU," Resh said. "It pretty much just scared the whole ICU staff because they weren't expecting him to live."
The soldier ended up spending about four months in the hospital before being released, and the other two wounded soldiers spent about two weeks each in the hospital, Resh said.
In recognition of their heroic acts that day, the crew of Dustoff 77, which now falls under Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, have been awarded the Army Aviation Association of America Rescue of the Year Award.
The credit for their success that day lies in the crew's training and outstanding abilities, Resh said. The lessons learned in the rescue will continue to benefit the crew and the Army.
"We go and train and do all this stuff at NTC," Resh said. "But when everybody gets a real patient in the back, that's where the real training comes. It just adds that extra realism to it, because it is real."