By Pfc. Michael Syner, 10th Combat Aviation BrigadeJuly 26, 2011
BAGRAM, Afghanistan, June 26, 2011 -- Few people can claim with certainty that they hold the balance of life and death in their hands, but Task Force Falcon’s Company C “Mountain Dustoff” not only claims it, they save lives on a daily basis.
Company C, 3rd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Falcon, is a medical evacuation unit, performing patient transfers from one base to another and picking up patients from the point of injury, which in this case usually means the battlefield.
“Our job is to pick up patients,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Brisson, a pilot with company and native of Albany, N.Y. “We have to be ready to take a call at anytime.”
The biggest difference for medevac pilots over regular UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots is the constant pressure to be able to take off at any time.
“I was an air assault pilot before coming here,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald Schumann, a pilot with C Company. “It’s a lot more challenging being a medevac pilot. We have to do on-the-fly planning for most of our missions. With my old unit, we would often have days to plan the mission.”
The primary reason for the added pilot stress is the Dustoff standard of “wheels up” within 15 minutes of receiving an urgent medical evacuation call.
“When we’re on shift, we have to be ready to respond very quickly,” Brisson said. “If we get an urgent call, we’re running out [to the helicopter] to get suited up and everything ready.”
Of course, pilots, while important, are not the only members of the medevac team. Each crew includes a medic to attend to the patient.
“The patient is usually stable when we pick them up,” said Spc. Christian Hinrichsen, a medic with Dustoff. “We’re there to move them from one location to another and make sure nothing goes horribly wrong.”
Most of the initial care has been performed when we arrive, Hinrichsen said.
To round out the team, there’s always a crew chief available to fly missions.
The crew chief is responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft, as well as everything outside of the cockpit of the helicopter.
“It’s my job to do everything else,” said Sgt. Benjamin Shipp, a crew chief with Company C. “The pilots fly, and I make sure the helicopter runs.”
Shipp is primarily concerned with making sure there are no objects near the aircraft when landing and taking off, checking around the helicopter for potential threats while flying and performing maintenance when the aircraft is on the ground.
Shipp isn’t the sole crew chief, however. Hinrichsen, the medic, also aids with crew chief responsibilities whenever he can.
“I’m a crew chief when I’m not being a medic,” Hinrichsen said.
Combined, these roles all work toward the same goal, to transport patients to the areas necessary for proper treatment, while keeping the patient alive during the flight.
They transport patients from all groups including Afghan National Army soldiers, Afghan civilians, coalition forces and an assortment of others have received higher care due to Dustoff’s abilities.
The company has flown more than 2,300 missions and transported more than 3,500 patients, many of those missions taking the company into the line of danger to pick up patients at the point of injury.
“I find this very satisfying,” Brisson said. “I get to play a direct role in saving people’s lives.”
Mountain Dustoff deployed in the fall of 2010 from Fort Drum, N.Y., and is expected to redeploy this fall.