Air Cav Medevac: On call and ready
June 30, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - As the phone rings, silence fills the room, all eyes and ears become focused on the Soldier answering. The word "urgent" is uttered and the sequence begins.
"Mission!" is yelled throughout the hallway and aircrews scramble. A once quiet building is now filled with the commotion of a well-organized and practiced procedure.
Depending on the type of call, the aircrews of C Company "Medevac," 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, have time limits from when they receive the call to when they leave the ground and are en route to the point of injury.
During an urgent call, the aircrews have just minutes to leave the ground.
"Once the nine-line medevac [request] is received, the crew chief and a pilot will grab their gear, head out to the aircraft and prep it up to the point of engine start," said Capt. Alek Finley, medevac detachment officer in charge for the Co. C, 1st ACB, from Pensacola, Fla.
"During that process, the pilot-in-command is checking the grid coordinates and plans the route to the pick-up; while the medic gets any follow up information from the unit about the patient," said Finley.
"As soon as the pilot-in-command hits the seat, the engines are started and the aircraft taxis out," said Finley. "If it is an urgent medevac, we will let the tower know and they will pretty much clear up all the airspace for us."
The short time period before take-off is critical for the medics to gain as much knowledge about the situation as possible.
"Right of the bat I go into [operations] and find out where we are going, what the unit's call sign is, what the nature of the injury is and any additional equipment that we need to bring with us," said Sgt. Karen Henson, from Fredericksburg, Va., a flight medic in Co. C, 1st ACB.
Being a medic in a flight company, it is important to make the most of the time you have. With the short flight time between areas, medics have to be prepared to deal with whatever situation comes their way.
"When we get three to four minutes out I will give them a call; one, to let them know that we are inbound so they can get the Soldier packaged, just so we can spend the least amount of time on the ground, and two, to get a patient update," said Henson.
"With this one, all I knew it was urgent and he had taken shrapnel to the hands and legs," said Henson. "So getting on update on this one gets me in the mindset of what I need to be prepared for and I waste the least amount of time possible once the patient is in my care."
The Medevac pilots have a great deal of experience and their role in the mission is never taken lightly.
"Once we are minute in-bound, all the talking and all the chatter stops, it is like game-time - it's time to focus on what's going on," said Finley.
"Typically, you do some type of recon; you will fly over the [landing zone], especially if it is someplace you have never been to before," said Finley. "It is just to try and give everyone as much situational awareness that you can and then you commit to the landing."
Their patient had received an initial treatment for his injuries at a troop medical clinic before coming into the care of the 1st ACB's medevac, where he would then be transported to the 10th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.
"It is important to constantly check the wounds, vitals and the alertness level of the injured Soldier to ensure his condition does not degrade," said Henson.
When a Soldier receives any type of serious injury incurred by combat, time is an extremely valuable commodity and medevac personnel are not ones to waste it.
According to Henson, it took his medevac crew less than half an hour to transport their patient from the troop medical clinic to the hospital; including the time spent on the ground.
The medevac aircrew's mission is complete once the patient and all of the critical information is handed over to the new provider.
"After that we either head back home or sometimes we can get a follow-on mission and the whole process starts all over again," said Finley. "This is probably the most rewarding job I could think of in the Army. Typically, (ground guys) don't leave the wire unless they know we are flying."
"[They] think about us whenever they do missions. One of the questions they check the box on during planning is, 'Hey is medevac up''" said Finley. "It is a pretty important piece to the puzzle for the ground commanders."
The pilots, crew chiefs and medics of Co. C, have a great sense of pride knowing they are helping Soldiers get through life-threatening situations.
"Being a medic you can go to sleep at night knowing that you made a difference, knowing that this guy will be able to go home and see his mother, his wife, his sister and continue to live his life," said Henson. "It gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling."