Fort Campbell Troops Work to Save Lives in Iraq
By Sgt. Michael J. Carden, USA
American Forces Press Service
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, March 7, 2005 "Never lose a soldier. No one dies on your bird." This is the motto of the 50th Medical Evacuation Company of the 101st Airborne Division, deployed from Fort Campbell, Ky.
Sgt. Marcus Miller, far right, a flight medic with the 50th Medical Evacuation Company of the 101st Airborne Division, deployed from Fort Campbell, Ky., and medics from the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, drive an improvisedexplosive-device patient from the landing zone to the hospital entrance March 2. Miller and his medevac crew flew the patient, a civilian contractor, from Baghdad International Airport. Photo by Sgt. Michael J. Carden, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Almost every day since its arrival here in November 2004, the company has been challenged to live by that motto.
"When we get the medevac call, things are pretty chaotic," said Sam Simons, a crew chief. "Dealing with casualties is never easy. You just do what you've got to do to help the medic save lives." The company spent a year in Mosul, Iraq, during its first deployment to Iraqi. The company's members were home for only nine months before deploying again. They have flown more than 1,100 combat hours in 12 Black Hawk helicopters.
The flight crews have executed more than 600 medical evacuation missions, transporting more than 800 casualties to combat support hospitals. Fifty percent of their missions have dealt with roadside landings on hasty landing zones, according to the company commander, Maj. William Howard.
Unit members agree no two missions are ever the same for the two pilots, crew chief and flight medic that make up a medical evacuation crew. Every time they receive a call, the possibilities and scenarios of what is in store are endless. They can't afford to be unprepared or not proficient, said Staff Sgt. Thomas Harris, a flight medic.
"Every mission is different," Harris said. "The call could be a mass (casualty) because of an insurgent attack or simply to pick up an appendicitis or hernia patient from his base camp's troop medical clinic. We could take fire when we land. We might have to make a roadside landing in a city or land in an open field. You've got to learn to adapt pretty quickly."
Adapting to different battlefield environments is something the crews do daily. Sometimes they're called for a second mission before they've finished a current mission. They often have to react to several different situations in a single day.
"Some days we can sit around all day and not get called," Harris said. "Other days (improvised explosive devices) and (rocket-propelled grenades) could be going off all day long. Some days we'll get three missions in a row and end up flying for three hours straight evacuating troops."
Simons said that he's been flying with a medevac crew for only about a month and a half. During that time, he's flown more than 50 hours evacuating casualties and patients.
Once the crew is on the ground, the medic's sole concern is the patients. The crew chief's responsibility is to make sure the medic can stay focused without worrying about incoming fire. The crew chief is the medic's security effort. "He's my bodyguard. He's my eyes on the perimeter," Harris said of his crew chief, Simons.
"The medic can't worry about things like security," Simons said. "He has the health of the patient to worry about."
After casualties are loaded onto the helicopter, the medic begins treating patients for secondary injuries, such as minor shrapnel or small-arms-fire wounds.
But sometimes the injuries are far too severe for the medic to treat in the air. Sometimes the casualties don't make it at all, Harris said.
"Saving a life is the greatest feeling in the world," Harris said. "But a lot of guys aren't going to make it. You have to be able to deal with that. I go home with a lot of bad memories of the faces of guys who died and didn't make it."
The pressures and stress of being on a medevac crew may be more than most people can handle But the medics, crew chiefs and pilots of the 50th Medevac Company are well-trained, experienced and always prepared to save the life of a fellow soldier, Simons said.
"This job isn't for everyone," Harris said. "You're dealing with casualties and blood. You've got to be able to work through that. If you let it get to you, you're not going to be any good to yourself or the patient."
(Army Sgt. Michael J. Carden is assigned to Multinational Corps Iraq.)