WHOOP, WHOOP, WHOOP -- the rotor blades of a UH-60 Blackhawk air ambulance blasts the dirt into dust at the bottom of a valley in Afghanistan.
It's about eight thousand miles from the balmy breezes of the Hawaiian islands to the gut wrenching visions of Watapur Valley in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. Army Sergeant Julia Bringloe, flight paramedic, adapts quickly to maneuvering a helicopter hoist rescue. This takes the ability to make quick decisions.
She adapts quickly to being shot at as well, while hovering ten feet off the rocky, arid ground.
BAM, BAM, BAM -- her claw hammer hits the nail on the head. Shards of lumber flying, saw-dust floats in the gentle Hawaiian breeze.
Before being shot at Sgt. Bringloe once held a hammer in her hand. This was before the Army. She did not have daydreams of hanging from a helicopter while growing up in Bainbridge Island, Washington, or while attending school in Hawaii. Hostile war zones and ricocheting live fire is not part of a carpenter's life. The dangers of a carpenter are different.
After graduating high school her days were filled with learning the trade of carpentry; working on custom millwork and building quality cabinets in homes surrounded by palm trees and Birds of Paradise. To many, working in the state of Hawaii is like being in a movie. But even in the most beautiful places, life can get mundane even with the sounds of hammering and the high pitch whine of the chainsaw. Her world was cutting things apart and putting them together. There is no drama in carpentry except when others fall off ladders or a finger is removed by a moment of inattention. She discovered that she had a knack to keep her cool and help the injured. She could keep calm while others suffered. She could help.
"I decided I wanted to make a change…," said the now seasoned Soldier.
And she made it. She joined the Army, got training as a medic, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The cross is awarded to Soldiers that distinguish themselves by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. This is no small achievement.
Bringloe's story has been captured in a recent documentary film titled: "When I Have Your Wounded: The DUSTOFF Legacy." The documentary premiered at the Pentagon Auditorium on November 9th. The movie tells the story of what she and the air crew faced. The crew of Dustoff 734 provided direct medical evacuation support to a task force in the Watahpor Valley.
Every military award has a narration. It is usually written by someone close enough to the action so that words have a vivid clarity of why the award is justified. If it is written well, it captures the horror and excitement of the moment when the recipient decided to act. The narrative captures when Bringloe ignored her own safety and began to save lives.
It reads like this: Throughout the multi-day operations, SGT Bringloe repeatedly faced a disciplined enemy determined to engage her and her crew in the most extreme, high altitude mountain environment in order to conduct life saving evacuations of 11 soldiers.
From the beginning, even before the Army, saving lives had interest for her. The civilian section offered few opportunities.
"I looked into joining the fire department to get my emergency medical training." She found out, at 34 years old, it would be difficult and would take too long. The Army gave her a chance to get what she wanted. The Army had a program to become a flight medic. "I joined with no medical background. None whatsoever."
The Army trains their personnel to know emergency medical procedures necessary for treating trauma -- combat trauma. They learn to treat the type of wounds that have been seen or could be seen in combat. In addition, they learn basic aviation skills and how to be part of an aircrew. Bringloe may have joined with no medical knowledge, but she demonstrated that she learned quickly. One of the soldiers had a gunshot wound to the face.
Without the crews daring rescue or Bringloe's medical treatment en route to the Forward Surgical Team, the Soldier would not have survived much longer on the mountain.
The Army's Healthcare Specialist Course designated as Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) "68W", includes certification in the National Registry of Emergency Technicians, (www.goarmy.com) and serves as the U.S Army's Medical department training foundation for all Army Combat Medics.
"Medicine is fascinating to me; I just can't seem to get enough of it still to this day," she said. It's been like that since I started the training."
Besides learning medical terms and procedures, the medic works in aid stations, forward surgical teams, and assists in triage. They are often on their own working and living with the units in the field and are there when a unit could come under fire. These medics are revered by the troops and are referred to as "doc" -- a term of endearment. They provide medical treatment in the absence of a doctor. They initiate treatment at the location of injury, they maintain treatment during evacuation to a healthcare facility, and are trained to work in hazardous and challenging terrain. This includes the mountains of Afghanistan or inside the body of a helicopter thousands of feet in the air as it flies to the nearest medical facility.
This is what Bringloe wanted. She wanted to fly, but she had to spend a year as a ground medic before taking her medical education to an even higher level. She had aspirations of doing more.
"I love flying. Flying in helicopters is a thrill!" Bringloe attended the Army's Flight Medic Course at The United States Army School of Aviation Medicine (USASAM) at Fort Rucker, Alabama. http://usasam.amedd.army.mil/index.htm
Bringloe flew many missions, inside the aircraft and more than once found herself dangling outside of it as well. A medic can be lowered to the patient to render assistance, and find herself hanging on the end of a very strong cable as she is being lifted into the air. The following tells her story, on a night where the training kicks in, and everything should and better work properly.
With the fallen soldier on board, her crew immediately returned the jungle penetrator (JP) to her for her own extraction. As soon as she began securing herself to the JP, the encircling enemy opened fire on her with a fierce determination to take her out. Despite the chaos around her, she didn't hesitate in her job, securing herself and instructing her crew to continue with her own extraction, ultimately hoisting her away…
What makes a good medic? Is it being cool? Is it making good decisions? Maybe it's a combination of things. Bringloe said: "What steered me towards this is that when stuff goes wrong, my brain seems to pop up and starts working correctly. I like being in tough situations and I just function well when quick decisions need to be made." "Quick decisions," she said. What kind of quick decisions?
Decisions like guiding the air crew onto a roof top surrounded by trees to evacuate three wounded Soldiers. Decisions like doing her job while under constant fire. This is why they awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross It was awarded because she ignored exhaustion, pain, and displayed …the knack to keep her cool.
Bringloe's training has not ended. Even with combat, even with the Distinguished Flying Cross a professional builds on what she knows. Bringloe continues to build upon her medical knowledge and experiences by attending Army medical courses between deployments down-range. She recently finished the flight paramedic "C" course. "I've gotten a lot more out of the Army than I ever imagined."
Recently one of her commanders, Lt. Col. Soo Lee Davis, MS Commander, 187th Battalion said, "Sgt. Bringloe is the epitome of the highly skilled and professional combat flight medic. She showed an enormous of amount of courage and dedication in the operation in which she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. She remains humble and modest to this day, always stating she was just doing her job, a job that the Army trained her to do. She knows the value of a highly skilled first responder. I know it is this awareness that drives her to be the best combat flight medic, soon to be paramedic, she can be."