Air Cav medevac: Surge, drawdown
December 9, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq-There are numerous sources where one can find the number of service members and civilians killed or injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom - a number many use to judge how well the war is going.
But one war-weathered flight medic need only reference memories of his previous deployment, from 2006 to 2008, and compare it to now.
"The big difference in Iraq, between the surge and this year is the sheer number of missions," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Orange, a flight medic for Company C, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
Orange, who has been in Iraq for what he likes to describe as, "the war, the surge and the pull out," has made it through over half of his current deployment with very few critical missions like the ones he encountered daily during the surge.
"So much more, during the surge, it was the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) with often catastrophic results," said the Sarasota, Fla., native.
A flight medic's job inherently brings them in close contact with gruesome scenes which are uncommon for most. So if medevac is not flying, Soldiers are not being severely injured, said Orange.
Now, Orange and his fellow flight medics are seeing less violent scenes and more scenes where patients walk themselves right onto the helicopter unaided, he said.
Capt. Alec Finlay, of Pensacola, Fla., a medevac pilot and the Taji medevac officer in charge, has noticed the change as well.
"You look at some of the stuff that's gone on for years and years [in Iraq] ... to seeing everything we've done in six, going on seven, years and the difference that we [made] in the surge - it's night and day," said Finlay.
Finlay was used to the typical 14-hour day during the surge when he went on three to five missions, with two of those usually being highly dangerous road-side medical evacuations, he said.
"Last time we were here, [ground] guys would get blown up, they'd stop, pull security and go after the bad guys and we'd land right there," said Finlay. "You're flying unarmed and unafraid."
In contrast, missions have now slowed down to the point where the veteran medevac crews are - more often than not - happily unemployed while the younger, less experienced, pilots and medics are chomping at the bit, he said.
"We're happy because we see the progress. We know what it's like to have seen the gore and the results of the violence," said Finlay. "That's stuff you don't necessarily want to see or brag about. [The] guys that fit into that category are content with what's going on right now."
Orange said he fits right into that category along with other veterans who would rather be training than picking their brethren off the streets.
"The new guys definitely want to get into the air and save lives and do all the things they became flight medics for. And they still do that, but not near as much," he said.
"I'll go collect guys with appendicitis all day for the rest of my career - I've seen enough," Orange said.