By Mollie Miller, 1st Infantry Division Public AffairsMay 20, 2013
Spent brass fell like rain near the spinning rotors of the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter.
The scene around the landing zone at the mouth of Afghanistan's Arghandab River Valley was like something out of a movie. Moments earlier, Soldiers on a dismounted patrol hit two anti-personnel improvised explosive devices. The blasts killed two members of the patrol immediately and left another fighting for every breath after losing his lower jaw in the explosion.
As the patrol worked to regroup and treat their wounded, the enemy fighters continued their assault with small arms fire. Two Kiowa crews also on patrol in the area heard the radio calls from the infantrymen on the ground and flew in to assist. The aircrews knew the medical evacuation helicopter was likely too far away to get to the casualty fast enough and wanted to do whatever they could to assist.
While one Kiowa crew provided cover fire from the air, the other landed to evacuate the severely wounded Soldier. As the brass from the hovering Kiowa's .50-caliber machine gun pelted the battle, the co-pilot of the Kiowa on the ground unbuckled, ran and grabbed the casualty and strapped him into the left seat of the aircraft. With his seat occupied by the injured Soldier, the co-pilot strapped himself to the weapons pylon on the outside of the helicopter. The pilot lifted off and flew to Kandahar where the medical team saved the Soldier's life.
Lt. Col. Matt Weinshel, now the commander of the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, was there that day in 2010 and said without those Kiowa crews, the injured Soldier would "probably not have made it."
"Crews will do whatever they have to do to save a life," Weinshel said May 16 at Fort Riley.
Aviators from Weinshel's squadron trained on that same extraction technique that allowed the Kiowa crew to save the Soldier's life in Afghanistan during a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Extraction exercise May 13 to 14 at Fort Riley.
The self-extraction maneuver, which involves pilots securing themselves to the outside of the helicopter, is a technique often discussed, but rarely practiced, Capt. Chaz Allen, commander of Troop B, 1st Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt., said.
"We have had a chance in the past to work on getting extracted by Black Hawks, getting extracted by a ground convoy or maneuvering to a friendly position but we have never had a chance to actually extract ourselves," Allen, who organized the two-day training event, said. "Now we have covered all the bases."
Last week's exercise was part of the squadron's ongoing preparation for an anticipated fall deployment to Afghanistan. Weinshel said the training event was the "right thing to do" to prepare the crews for whatever situations they may encounter downrange.
"Many of the squadrons started incorporating more hands-on training like this because we were forced into conducting some of these tasks downrange," he said. "(Self-extraction) is a contingency task, not something we would normally do but, to save a life or to save a limb or eyesight, we would do this."
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Vester said the self-extraction exercise was a very important part of his team's pre-deployment training.
"The exercise builds confidence in your equipment, that the aircraft can support you and the straps will hold you," he said.
Describing the training event as "not an average day at the office," Allen was happy his troop had the opportunity to get some real-life training on something about which most only read.
"The guys had a chance to experience what it is like to be on the outside of a moving aircraft at low level," he said. "Hopefully this will take away some of that mystery, some of the stress that will undoubtedly be present in a real world situation. You can read about something in a book all day long but when you hook up to the aircraft it is a whole new ball game."