By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentAugust 8, 2018
CAMPTON, Ky. -- Soldiers from the MEDEVAC detachment out of Frankfort practiced air rescue techniques and hoist lifts from rooftops, water, and cliffs -- everything to prepare for a time when real lives might be in danger and in need.
During their annual training July 23 - Aug. 6, Soldiers from Detachment 1, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation MEDEVAC flew over the skies of eastern Kentucky from Cave Run Lake to the Red River Gorge in UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, performing simulated rescue missions with the help of members of the Jessamine County Fire Department and Wolfe County Search and Rescue.
This is the first time the unit has operated in this region of the state for training with the chance to use the more difficult terrain to their advantage.
"The work we do with these local agencies is in case of a natural disaster or any kind of rescue situation," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lowe, senior crew noncommissioned officer in charge. "It falls in line with our war time mission as well, using our crews and our critical care paramedics and exercising pretty much everything we do in in a wartime situation or peacetime mission."
Giving the Soldiers more hands-on experience was a goal that leadership had set out to provide when planning this training.
"We moved a lot of equipment, we pumped a lot of aviation gas, set up a TOC (Tactical Operation Center) multiple times, multiple convoys and we flew quite a few missions," said Capt. Jonathon Strayer, commander of the MEDEVAC Detachment. "Everybody got training on their job. To me, part of insuring everyone receives good training is giving them that 'TV commercial' that got them to come in. Everybody enlisted for a reason and it's my job to make sure they are doing that."
Not only did they get some exciting "commercial" action in training, there was unscripted, real-life action that came their way as well.
According to Strayer, the unit received a phone call to dispatch a helicopter from Wolfe County Search and Rescue for an actual search operation during the first week of training.
Having been an available, ready asset helps build trust with the civilian agencies that will be calling on them.
"It has opened up the gates to what we will actually be capable of doing in the very near future since we have created that bond and they know that we are there for them," added Strayer.
Building relationships with local fire departments and search and rescue teams is imperative for the unit, as they will be working hand-in-hand with them when they are called upon to help with state missions.
"It's very important, especially in the MEDEVAC community," added Lowe. "We are the only assets in the state of Kentucky that the National Guard owns with the means of lifting these patients out."
Firefighters with the Jessamine County Fire Department and technical rope rescue members with Wolfe County Search and Rescue volunteers were used as safeties, and also played the simulated victims that needed rescue.
Their participation was beneficial in showcasing how the Guard unit works and allowed them to get experience working together.
"This training is highly needed," said Michael Hacket, deputy chief, Wolfe County Search and Rescue. "Not only to have the camaraderie but we know what each other can do because as soon as you're under the conditions of night, a loud helicopter and multiple people, ropes and wind, you have to know what the other person can do, can't do, what they need to do, and vice versa."
The area's mountainous terrain was one of the reasons Charlie Company decided to train in the region and saw the most benefit for those involved.
"Our patients are usually up here in the back country," said Hackett. "Most often our problem is getting them to the hospital in a timely manner. With the Guard unit coming out and the training here today, we are hoping to provide our visitors or ultimately those who become a victim or a patient a more narrow window from time of incident to time of care."
The rocky terrain presented many challenges to the crews, but the skilled hands of the pilots, who fly the Black Hawks, turned an impossible situation into a manageable one.
"There is definitely a lot of challenges (for the rescues)," said 2nd Lt. Drew Myers, maintenance section leader and pilot with the unit. "Especially when you get out on the bluffs and the cliffs. You get a lot different air than when you are trying to hover over an airfield with steady air. You really have to adjust the controls and keep it steady especially with someone hanging off the hoist."
He added that with recent technology inside the helicopter, maneuvering the aircraft is made a little easier, but still takes a lot of communication with his crew.
"It's a full crew concept'," Myers said. "Working together as a crew and making sure you trust everybody around you and making sure you have good crew coordination is paramount."
For all those involved, it was agreed that everything done in those two weeks spent going over protocols, steps to safe rescue and training will be worth it if it saves even just one life.
"It's going to pay in huge dividends," said Strayer. "The folks in our unit worked hard this past two weeks, everybody brought something to the table and made it a success. There are not enough positive things I can say about the Soldiers in our unit or even the folks with the Wolfe County Search and Rescue, Jessamine County Fire (Department) and all the civilian agencies we worked with. Everyone involved got a lot of training value out of it."
NOTE: The Kentucky National Guard MEDEVAC assets may be called upon in the state of Kentucky after all other local & state resources have been exhausted. Typically civilian MEDEVAC (based throughout the Commonwealth) are the first responders to an incident with other state agencies, like the Kentucky State Police, providing initial support in missing persons.