YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – The rhythmic beating of rotor blades echoes through the air long before the UH-60L Black Hawk emerges on the horizon. Painted in a distinctive green hue with red medical crosses decorating its belly and sides, the aircraft descends to a hover, prompting a sigh of relief from those on the ground. The arrival of the United States Army Air Ambulance Detachment-Yakima (USAAAD), 2-158 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade is a familiar sight to soldiers and civilians alike in the Pacific Northwest, especially around Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Yakima, when medical emergencies strike.
The commendable efforts of USAAAD-Yakima, affectionately known as Yakima DUSTOFF, have not gone unnoticed. Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Smith, the Commander of the 7th Infantry (Bayonet) Division inducted the unit into the Order of the Bayonet during a ceremony July 18, 2023, at Yakima Training Center. The unit was inducted into the esteemed Order of the Bayonet recognizing their unwavering support to both soldiers and civilians in dire need.
Speaking about the honor, Maj. Alec Degroat, the Commander of USAAAD-Yakima, expressed his pride, stating, "Receiving this award is an honor for everyone who serves, has served, and will serve in Yakima DUSTOFF. It demonstrates our commitment to our U.S. and allied servicemembers and civilians, and the overwhelming support of the division for our mission."
The primary mission of USAAAD - Yakima, with its motto "To Save a Life," is to provide critical medical evacuation support to injured military personnel and civilians in dire situations. In central Washington's rugged and diverse terrain, USAAAD stands as the only unit positioned to provide 24/7 coverage, equipped with aircraft capable of high-altitude hovering and a reliable rescue hoist.
Throughout this year, Yakima DUSTOFF has conducted eight evacuations, including both military personnel and civilians. The unit averages around 30 missions annually. “Most of our civilian missions happen between June and October when the mountains are more accessible”, said Degroat. “While military missions tend to align with major training exercises.”
The unit may be small, comprised of 33 dedicated personnel and four UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters, but their collaborative efforts make each mission a resounding success. According to Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Trujillo, the unit's First Sergeant, "We have a very cohesive unit, and each person, from flight operations to medics, crew chiefs, and pilots, understands the importance of their roles. They all play an integral part in achieving our common goal of providing the best possible care to the patient."
The heart of each mission lies with the critical care flight paramedic on board, carrying a comprehensive suite of medical equipment to deliver immediate aid. In cases where landing the aircraft is impossible, the paramedic descends with the rescue hoist to render life-saving assistance and recover the patient.
When asked about the most rewarding part of commanding USAAAD, “Due to our specific mission, limited size, and relationships with civilian entities, I can focus the unit more on training”, said Degroat. He takes pride in witnessing the detachment's growth in expertise, observing junior soldiers evolve into proficient pilots-in-command, non-commissioned officers, and experienced officers.
Over the past five years, the small but mighty detachment, has completed 42 DSCA missions, saving 53 patients lives. Their achievements include earning recognition for the highest altitude rescue hoist operation and being recipients of six DUSTOFF Association awards over the past two years.
The Order of the Bayonet, with its roots dating back to the early 1950s, was originally established to recognize 7th Infantry Division’s non-infantry soldiers serving in direct combat, the unofficial predecessor to the combat action badge. Today, the Order of the Bayonet, recognizes outstanding contributions of soldiers, civilians, and units displaying a level of professionalism and unequaled service to the Division.
In the vast expanse of central Washington, where emergencies can strike without warning, the dedication and valor displayed by Yakima-DUSTOFF continue to inspire and safeguard the lives of soldiers and civilians alike. Their presence in the skies serves as a beacon of hope and reassurance, making a profound impact on those they rescue and on the nation they dutifully serve.