By Capt. Corissa BartonSeptember 15, 2010
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany- Each year, the Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) trains thousands of U.S. and multinational forces and leaders to allow them to dominate in full-spectrum operations in any environment.
To assume such a mission, the JMTC enlists support teams to ensure all training is done to standard and as safely as possible. But if things go wrong, one team stands by to react.
The 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance), Washington, D.C., Army National Guard, is ready to fly at a moment's notice if the need for a medical evacuation arises.
"We have crews that are on duty 24/7 at Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels. Typically we can go from being asleep in bed to skids off the ground in about 15 minutes," said 1st Lt. John Tritschler, medevac pilot.
The aircraft they fly, the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter, is another tool in the arsenal for the JMTC.
"It is a very modern aircraft that has lots of the bells and whistles. It's got fully coupled auto pilot, which makes our jobs a lot easier. It is used a lot for civilian medevac. It is a typical civilian helicopter with very few modifications from the civilian model," said Tritschler.
The UH-72A has never flown in Europe until now. The crew has a strict mission of medevac while at Grafenwoehr, however they can serve other missions in the U.S.
"Back in the states our unit has been tasked with operational support for dignitary visits or events such as the presidential inauguration and state of the union addresses. We can also respond in the case of natural disasters," said Tritschler.
Because the aircraft is brand new, the pilots were able to receive training directly from the manufacturer, American Eurocopter, in Texas. The Army has since developed its own 6-week training course at Fort Indiantown Gap, Penn. The pilots also went through a validation process at Grafenwoehr in order to cover the European skies.
"Our validation process consisted of learning the area and routes to ensure we can get to the units doing training at the Grafenwoehr Training Area and get them where they need to be quickly," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rendell Long, medevac pilot.
The 121st is supporting Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels for 12 months. The Grafenwoehr Training Area (GTA) gives the traditional Guard Soldiers the opportunity to become experts of the aircraft before using them for possible natural disasters upon returning home.
"Normally you don't end up assisting the Soldier as much as we are assisting the Soldier now. Most Guard units train for two weeks a year. Here we have a higher OPTEMPO and you have Soldiers training on a consistent basis so the support is necessary to be there for them. In case an injury occurs we are able to pick that particular individual up and take them to the hospital," said Long.
Though training accidents are rare in the GTA due to the strict safety measures in place, they can happen. However, with the D.C. National Guard standing ready, Soldiers trained by the JMTC can rest assured they will be well taken care of.
"Just like most people who call 911 back in the states or get hurt they always want to make sure that who is going to come help them can handle the situation and be there quickly," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Waddell, a flight medic with the 121st. "Naturally if we can make the reputation known that we can be there quickly and help appropriately, then when you do get hurt, hopefully you have some ease knowing that somebody will be on the way very quickly to pick you up and take care of you at the same time."
While the unit is currently supporting the JMTC they are also providing some training of their own.
"We can help units prepare for 9-line medevac and helicopter safety. We also train them how to properly load and unload litters to get their injured brothers and sisters to our helicopter safely," said Maj. Mark Escherich, commander of the 121st.
Because of the limited training opportunities available at home, performing this real world mission in support of the JMTC gives the unit pride and validates the work that they do.
"It kind of gives you self worth. You understand that you can train, train, and train but until you get to do the job you really haven't done it yet. We had our first mission the other day and I actually got to take a patient. Then I can actually carry the name flight medic," said Waddell.