CAPTAIN JODY L. RITCHIE: Thank you for joining us this afternoon -- (inaudible). I'm Captain Jody Ritchie. I'm with the Air Force Public Affairs Office. And I am pleased to have with me today Colonel Chris Barnett and Major Brian Creel. Both gentlemen are helicopter pilots, and tomorrow they'll both -- each be awarded with two Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor medals in a service here in the Pentagon. They earned this -- these honors during combat operations in Afghanistan in 2009.
So without further delay, Colonel Barnett.
COLONEL CHRISTOPHER BARNETT: Thanks, Jody.
If you don't mind, real quick I'll just set the stage -- yeah, absolutely -- as to how we got to where we were.
In 2009, spring of 2009, I was the squadron commander of the 34th Weapons Squadron, which was the -- is part of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, which teaches advanced tactics, Ph.D.-level tactics, really, and operational-level skills across really the Air Force -- across multiple airframes, NDS and areas of the Air Force, yeah, with everything from F-16s, yeah, F-15s, space, special operations, et cetera.
So I was squadron commander of the 34th Weapons Squadron, which is the H-60 Pave Hawk Squadron, which teaches specifically combat search and rescue for the Air Force and, actually, you know, for DOD in general. Being that we were at the weapons school, really we were a training unit. We were nondeployable, and our charter was to train really up to about eight students a year. So it's a very selective group, very intense training courses, five and a half months long. And as individuals go through this course, our charter was to put out really the most advanced tactics instructors to then go back to the unit -- to deploying units.
Myself -- I became a squadron commander in September of 2007; so still squadron commander in spring of 2009. And in approximately January of 2009, I got word, literally, an email coming down from Air Combat Command, which was our parent command of the weapons school, which said that the chief of staff of the Air Force was looking at closing our course for the time being and packing us up and shipping the entire unit off to Afghanistan.
Needless to say, this was a little bit of a surprise, as it came. But, nonetheless, as we looked into it, what the issue was, was in Iraq, in 2009, you know, we're at the end of the -- you know, at the end of the surge, you know, large force structure in Iraq at that point, and we have the capability really, of as our guys get injured, we've now got a robust-enough casualty evacuation group in Iraq that, you know, we have the capability to get to those guys quickly and get them to a hospital.
In Afghanistan at the beginning of 2009, it wasn't the case, you know, for multiple reasons. One is didn't have the force structure yet in place. And number two, also, the geography of Afghanistan being what it is, it's much more difficult to get a, you know, group of forces spread around the area so that you can have that continual coverage.
And of course, what they're looking for and what becomes the mantra is this whole golden hour issue, which is the theory that if you can get to someone that has a critical injury within an hour and we can get them back to the hospital really within the hour that you have a much higher chance of saving that individual's life.
So Secretary Gates some -- in the fall -- I believe it was November of 2008, had gone to the service secretaries. And of course, this is somewhat what I'm hearing at the time, OK? So I didn't -- wasn't exactly, you know, parlay to the actual conversation that occurred between these individuals. But from what I understand, it was, hey -- to the service secretaries -- what can we do to kind of bridge the gap? As we start to go to a larger force structure in Afghanistan, how can we quickly get forces into Afghanistan so that we have this golden hour coverage, and what can we do right now?
And from what I understand, the chief of staff of the Air Force, General Schwartz, said, hey, I'll look at some options, one of which was that we take the weapons school, we take their airframes and their crews, and we send them to cover a gap in -- with the thought being that one of the areas we had lighter coverage was southwestern Afghanistan, in particular in the Helmand province area.
And that's what came to pass.
So I found out about that in about approximately February. We closed down the course. And to make a long story short, we -- in fact, we went, bought gear, et cetera, got everyone spun up and out the door by the middle of March over to Afghanistan. So really, it was a matter of -- we were ready to go in about three weeks from the time that we got the call. And then after that, we were just waiting on airlift to get us in theater.
We showed up and immediately deployed the 34th Weapons Squadron; elements of the 763rd Maintenance Squadron, which is the maintenance squadron out of Nellis Air Force Base also, which provides our maintenance, since in the Air Force, maintenance squadron is separate than operational squadrons; 38th pararescue -- or excuse me, 38th Rescue Squadron, which was pararescue guys that are out of Moody Air Force Base; and then also supporting elements such as intel, op support, et cetera, from the weapons school itself, from the weapons school -- larger weapons school.
We deployed into Forward Operating Base Bastion on -- I believe it was around the 20th of March, 19th of March we got there. And literally, immediately we were in combat ops within 24 hours. In fact, Major Creel, then Captain Creel, and myself flew four combat missions that first day, to include going into, you know, what -- a hot LZ where we pulled two Estonians out under fire in that first afternoon.
During the period of time -- I'm going to turn this over to Major Creel here in a second to talk about the first event that occurred to -- for the award of the first Distinguished Flying Cross for each of us.
But kind of as a stage-setter, during the period of time that the 34th Weapons Squadron and its associated elements were conducting operations out of Helmand province in southwestern Afghanistan, we flew over 550 combat sorties, 275-plus-some combat actual casualty evacuation missions, which are with two aircraft, over 300 lives saved. And literally, over the 80 days that we were holding alert 24 hours a day, the crews were flying anywhere from four, five, all the way up to 10 combat missions a day.
In fact, during the period of May of that 2009, the crews -- the 34th Pararescue, our supporting maintenance guys -- we were flying more casualty evacuation missions there than all the rest of the theater combined. Iraq and the rest of Afghanistan combined weren't equal to the number of missions these guys were flying.
Q: (Off mic) -- or -- (inaudible) --
So that's everyone in DOD that was doing any kind of medevac, casualty evacuation mission, rescue of any kind, sort and flavor. And obviously a tremendous effort by the maintainers to keep those aircraft going, and the crews, which really were on -- 12 hours on, 12 hours off for the entire time that we were over there.
So the first mission that we're going to talk about the specifics of -- and there are many, many other ones that occurred during that period -- but occurred on 4 April 2009. And I'm going to let Major Creel go ahead and take that.
MAJOR BRIAN CREEL: Thanks, sir.
As Colonel Barnett kind of started this off when we were talking about the first mission in April, again, the 4th of April, 2009, as Colonel Barnett said, we had already been in combat operations for, you know, a few weeks, so this was not anything like the first mission we did. And even when we talked the second group of missions, here were multiple missions in between. There -- we're just kind of focusing on these two.
So that the -- with the first mission in April, what happened was, we got word that a national -- or Afghan National Army soldier had injured himself falling off of a wall or a compound down south of Bastion, about 15 miles. With that type of head injury, obviously we're trying to get there as fast as we can. We averaged about six to eight minutes for each launch, which was considerably faster than what had been the normal response times in the -- in the country before we got there.
Once we launched and went down to the area south of Bastion, it -- the weather was -- the weather was bad to begin with. There's quite a few portions of this one mission, because it -- the mission ended up being about 10 1/2 hours long.
The first part was fighting the weather. So in Afghanistan you're battling sandstorms or -- also known as shamal, so just to get down to the location where the soldier was was hard enough as it -- as it needed to be.
Once we got into the area, however, there were still insurgents, and we -- with the weather, though, they did not ever see us with that. So it actually helped us out in the long run: fighting the weather, on one hand, but you're not fighting the insurgents on the other.
So that actually helped.
We got in. We got the soldier on the aircraft. Our pararescue men looked at the soldier; figured out, you know, that, hey, this guy is really -- his head injury is pretty serious, and we got to go to Kandahar because they had a trauma center there for head injuries.
Q: (Off mic) -- or -- (inaudible) --
MAJ. CREEL: It was -- it was at least a concussion or worse -- at least a concussion, though. So we went to Kandahar, which is about an hour flight. We dropped the soldier off there, and then we started to head back to Bastion.
When we got about three-quarters of the way, what we normally do is listen to what's happening throughout the operations area. We had developed relationships with all the ground forces in the area of Bastion. That includes the Marines, the British, and also the Green Berets, the special forces in the area at the time. So we would listen to what was happening on their frequencies.
On our way back, there was a special forces unit that was moving from one location to another and they were doing a convoy, and they had asked us to provide them escort while they did that because it was in an area -- a heavily mined area or improved explosive devices (sic).
Q: (Off mic) --
MAJ. CREEL: This was after the rescue. So we had dropped off the one injured person. So we had no patients or no casualties in the back of the aircraft at that time. So we coordinated through our chain of command and they allowed us to go into what we call an airborne alert and that -- what that allows us to do is position ourself in an area that we might be able to respond even faster if something goes wrong.
This lasted a good hour or so to where we needed to get fuel. We had to leave that unit after we got them past a certain phase line, that they wanted to get past, that they thought was the most dangerous point of their convoy.
We got gas -- we got refuel over at an area that was close to where we were -- this was up around the Kajaki Dam in the northern part of Helmand province in Afghanistan or the Helmand river valley.
Once we got refuel, we got notification that another Green Beret unit was actually under attack. What we normally do is once we -- once we know that someone's in contact with the enemy, we want to get as -- we -- try to get as close to the actual forces that we can in case someone is -- becomes a casualty, we can go in and get them as fast as possible.
However, when we checked in with the ground controller, he -- and what we normally do is check in with what type of ammunition we have, how long we can stay on station, things like that. They normally come back and tell us, OK, this is how I'm going to use you.
Well, because they were being shot at by three heavy machine guns out of a compound, he didn't get any of that out. He just basically said, hey, can you support us right now with any type of fire support?
They had B-1s overhead that had already dropped bombs around the area but could not attack the compound that was attacking them then because they couldn't confirm which compound it was and also the possibility of civilian casualties.
There was also a Apache unit -- a coalition Apache unit that had the same issue. They could not get close enough to where they can confirm where the enemy was. So once he asked us to do that, we proceeded in, because now we have another challenge: We have to figure out where the friendlies are, and we got to figure out where the enemy is, and we also got to look for any other civilians around the area.
So the only way we could do that was to fly in over the friendly forces, and as we flew over, you could see all the green berets lined up behind their trucks. They were facing -- or behind their trucks, so we focused our attention over on the other direction.
We were -- we were able to confirm the compound that the fire was coming from. We flew over both the enemy and the friendly forces by about 200 feet or so. We had to get low enough to where we could, no kidding, confirm that that's where they were. We did not want to engage. Once we did that, we turned back around and set ourselves up in a -- in an L attack pattern that we used to fix our guns forward and shoot forward and -- just like a regular Apache or something like that would, and focus all four of our machine guns into that one compound at the same time.
That was extremely effective. When we came in, we started shooting. Our wingman was behind us. And as we came off the target, I could look over to my shoulder, and I could see the green berets had jumped up out of their -- from their cover, and they were -- they were moving forward and basically assaulting the compound because once we started shooting, their fire was -- it ceased on them, so -- which is obviously the intent of what we were doing.
Once we did -- we turned around for another pass. Another pass wasn't required. They took the compound, confirmed that all the enemy had been killed or left the area before we came in on our gun run. And then we stayed in the area for about another hour, had to get more gas, came back, and then we escorted them to the area that they were -- they were going to remain overnight.
All in all, this was kind of quick going through that. It was obviously -- it happened really fast in some parts, and then in some parts, it took a little bit of time with the different units that we were supporting that -- for that one mission.
But it was about a 10-hour mission overall.
Once we were finished with the last green beret unit, we went back to Bastion. And that was -- that was the end of that one mission that we're talking about.
What I -- what I'd like to do is just pass it back over to Colonel Barnett. He's going to talk about an operation down in Marja, which was not one mission, but actually three rescues over a few-day period.
COL. BARNETT: And for both these missions, Brian and I, we were flying together. So -- and then we had another aircraft with other, you know, crew members.
COL. BARNETT: Yeah, exactly.
MAJ. CREEL: Correct. Right.
COL. BARNETT: In the same aircraft, in the same -- (off mic).
The -- just -- you know, one thing -- one thing to add to what Brian was saying there about that mission, that it kind of -- hard to really express -- we -- it was about 35 special forces members that were down there on the ground. It was an original team that had been moving to try to assault this building. And it was in an area near Kajaki Dam where it was -- it was what you would call a village, I guess, in Afghanistan. I mean, there were multiple compounds all around them, so it wasn't just from one area where they could pinpoint. Heavy Taliban presence in that area at that time, throughout the area.
And these guys -- the team had gotten pinned down and had -- could not get into their vehicles, could not, you know, move further down the road and were taking fire from really different directions, so they really couldn't do a whole lot about it. And like he said, the proximity of these guys to the enemy was only a couple hundred yards. So you really couldn't drop a bomb or -- yeah, exactly. Exactly. (Inaudible.) Danger close.
A QRF, a ground quick reaction force, had come in to try to relieve them and got pinned down with them.
So now you've got really two teams that are on the ground there --
MR. : (Off mic.)
COL. BARNETT: Yes, it was.
MR. : Rangers.
COL. BARNETT: Yep, it was their particular QRF for the mission they were going on. So -- at which point, with Apaches unable to engage and the B-1 unable to engage, these guys were in a tough spot to the -- it was to the point where the controller literally just said, I don't know where the fire's coming from except for it has a big blue door. So shoot the house with a big blue door on it. But --
MAJ. CREEL: If you saw them jump up and storm that compound, I mean, they were still getting some fire. And they just -- they went in because they had to do it.
COL. BARNETT: Yeah, and it was truly a heroic thing to watch. (Chuckles.)
MAJ. CREEL: It was amazing.
COL. BARNETT: Yeah. The second event that occurred was over the period (then ?) the 19th and 20th of May, so about five weeks later. Just as a quick chronology goes, the middle part of April, the poppy harvest is going on, fighting's slowing down, and so it was a little calmer at that point.
But from about the end of April until the end of the first week and a half of June when we left, really the fighting picked back up. We had the Brits, SOF (ph) and the Marines all operating in the Helmand river valley area. And in particular the one nasty place at the time was in what we called -- you know, it was a section of what we called the Green Zone, which is the Helmand river valley area.
And a lot of people used that Green Zone term in different places. But for us it was really the kind of agricultural area that surrounded the center of the Helmand river valley, where largest population was. In the southern section of that was the area called Marja, which, you know, then was on the news quite a bit the following February of 2010, when the Marines finally went in and cleaned that place out.
And the reason they had to go in and clean that place out was because prior to that, I mean, it was essentially a Taliban stronghold, to the point where the British, who controlled really the operations in the Helmand area up to that point, they had essentially cordoned that area off. We weren't going in there, we just were trying not to let them out.
And so I mean, it was to the point where, I mean, when you looked at our maps, the Marja area had big red hash marks over it that said don't even fly over this area if you're in a helicopter, because despite -- you know, in spite of the AK-47s, which everyone has, and RPGs, which 97 percent of them had, you know, and the heavy machine guns, they're -- I mean, they had everything up to 23-millimeter, you know, really anti-aircraft guns that, you know, were the back of people's trucks down in that area.
Post the harvest, the Taliban had -- the Taliban governance had collected their -- the majority of the drugs that they were processing, the poppy that they had collected, et cetera. And they were putting it in a place called the Loy Chareh bazaar. And really, it's a market, dead center of Marja. And that was kind of their seat of governance. That was where their medical treatment was. That's where all their drugs were, highest concentration of weapons stashes, IEDs, et cetera -- very important place for these guys.
The special forces that were operating out of -- out of the Helmand area at that time -- and part of the guys that we had supported on this other mission back in April -- conducted a mission where they went down into Marja under cover of night on the 18th of May, and they essentially captured that -- you know, in a surprise move, they captured that marketplace and took it over and secured it, with the plan being, we're going to hold this for four days, gather up as much stuff as we can, destroy it. And they did.
And in fact, I mean, you can even -- if you Google what -- it was called Operation Siege Engine 6; they've got a little video that comes up that shows some of the time when they weren't exactly operating -- you know, well, I shouldn't say they weren't exactly operating; what I should say is, when they weren't being attacked, because the reality is when the Taliban woke up the next morning, on the morning of May 19th, needless to say, they were pretty unhappy to find a special forces company had assaulted and taken over their stash.
Basically throughout the day of the May 19th, continual waves -- strengthening waves of Taliban opposition started to assault their positions from -- you know, at times completely encircled, you know, attacking them from three different directions. It was -- it -- to us, as outsiders of this, I mean, it literally -- it was like the Alamo. These guys were in there. They had no relief because, again, it was so dangerous for people to go in there. And the Taliban just kept -- after one attack would, you know, fail or peter out; they'd get on their cellphones and start calling more guys, and then, you know, a larger group would continue to show up.
So these guys were under attack continuously throughout the day, ended up taking the first casualty in the afternoon of that first full day of the May 19th, to which we responded.
Now, we had developed a relationship over the time we were there with the special forces commander, the Marine commander, the Brits, et cetera, where they understood who we were, they understood that we would go into these firefights if necessary to get their guys out.
One thing about what the 34th did that was different, before we got there, kind of the standard operating procedures when you had a casualty, most of the time was they would try to -- they would -- you know, obviously treat the patient, try to get them to a secure area, then you bring in the helicopters. The value of having the Air Force combat search-and-rescue-trained helicopters was -- and especially these guys -- was that they would go into and had trained to go into hot LZs on a regular basis, into an area where there's a firefight, how to talk to ground troops, how to coordinate with them.
So we had developed this, and they knew we would -- we would come. We told them, don't waste the time, because again, it's all about getting that patient back to the hospital as fast as possible. Every second counts. So if you're losing time because you have to, you know, pull a guy back to a secure location before you necessarily can get him out, then we're -- then we're losing time on that individual, you know, who's got a serious, you know, wound.
So we knew these guys. And it was -- you knew we were going to get them, because we heard their voices on the radio. When you've heard the voice on the radio of the commander down there, you knew him personally and what they were going through and you could hear the gunfire over that radio, multiple radios, it was -- it really wasn't a question for our guys that we were going to go down into that area to pull those guys out.
So I mean, to not (delay ?) that too much, there were three casualty evacuations that we conducted over the first two days -- the first one being that afternoon, second one that night, and the third one being the following day.
And really just again to kind of reinforce what these guys were going through down there, the special forces guys, they went down -- they had planned on being there for multiple days, you know, to kind of polish this place up, get all the -- you know, enemy drugs, you know, explosive device equipment, weapons, et cetera, together, destroy it -- expected to be there for multiple days. By the end of the first day, these guys were already running low on ammunition, water and food, because the fight -- the fight was so intense for these guys down there, and I honestly have never seen anything like it.
So the second time we went down there, you know, after being down there the first time and seeing what these guys were going through, our guys were loading up and bringing water and bringing extra ammunition down to them and dumping it with them when we'd end up going in for a casualty.
So really I would say that the biggest thing on the -- on this is, again, as far as I know, I don't know that any other crews went down into the Marja area ever during the day -- prior to that, for years, or after that. In fact, I had talked to a friend of mine who's a squadron commander about a year after we got back, and he -- we were talking the area, because he had operated out of there. And his comment was, you know, we'd talk about different places, like Sangin or the snake's head area, et cetera, and he said, yeah, but the one thing is, nobody goes into Marja.
So as it was, the three casualties were all, you know, pretty severe, but because these guys were able to get them back, because the maintainers were able to keep those aircraft flying, even though we had one lost -- lost an engine on the second mission with my wingman, who's Captain Kirk Adams (sp), handling that emergency and getting that aircraft staying over to cover Brian and I while we went into the zone, even though he was down an engine -- the maintainers (got ?) that aircraft right back up, you know.
And we were able to get that thing -- you know, get down and make sure we didn't, you know, leave anybody behind the next day when they had another casualty.
Q: (Off mic) -- have in the unit?
COL. BARNETT: We had three, three to make (two ?) for the entire time. And I can only remember maybe one mission that I ever flew where we took one aircraft and had asked the Brits to escort us, because we were down two aircraft out of the -- out of the 550-plus- some sorties that were flown by those aircraft. And never did we not launch immediately because were trying to get an aircraft fixed either on that.
MAJ. CREEL: Because we had already coordinated that out.
COL. BARNETT: Yeah.
MAJ. CREEL: And that was a contingency if we went down. We had direct access to the other asset. So it happened about the same time.
COL. BARNETT: Mmm hmm.
Q: I didn't mean to cut you off. Sorry.
COL. BARNETT: No, that's OK. Actually, I -- (inaudible) -- you know, I was going to say -- what do you got?
Q: Well, I'll give you my background a little bit. I -- in 2010 I flew with one of the Air Force rescue units for about two weeks out of Kandahar. (Off mic) -- so I'm very interested just to hear your guys' story.
MR. : OK, yeah.
Q: I guess I was very interested to hear too, just from your telling it here, what was it like, you know, coming from the weapons school, where, you know, this isn't a traditional Air Force mission; the combat search-and-rescue is very different. You're going, you know, behind the -- well, I mean, they have similarities, but there are differences. What was the transition for you guys, you know, going from the weapons school on such a quick turnover to take over, you know, this mission and get right -- thrown right into it, from what it sounds like?
MAJ. CREEL: Well, it was actually -- the hard part for us was trying to get all the equipment that we didn't have.
You know, when you -- when say, OK, we're going to war, you go, OK, let's go; we're ready to go because we want to make things better, but we don't have tents, and we don't have, you know, rifles and things like that. But we did have, though, was the best-trained pilots and crew that the Air Force has to offer when it comes to CSAR, because that's -- that is -- those are the people that are teaching it at the weapons school.
So we didn't necessarily have to go train up the new pilots and the new crew members to try to hone their skills on what they could expect in that location. We were already teaching at the highest level. So basically, we took the CSAR training and then pulled parts of that training out, and then we did CASEVAC with it. So -- yes, sir.
COL. BARNETT: Yeah. The -- and that's really a key thing is if you trained to combat search and rescue, you can do casualty evacuation. It's almost like it's a subset of the mission.
MAJ. CREEL: Right. Yeah.
COL. BARNETT: And to brag for a minute -- since I was a squadron commander, I brag about my guys -- you know, it's -- none of the guys were new. You know, being instructors at the weapons school, they had all come from rescue units, so we had all deployed multiple times in the past. So every one of these guys -- handpicked to be there, you know, from the best of the group that's out in the field.
So the transition -- it was more of a -- it's learning -- you know, you don't forget how to ride a bike. I guess you don't forget what it's like, at some point -- (chuckles) -- to be back getting shot at. But the reality is that also, because these guys are such skilled tacticians, you know, you can break down the casualty evacuation in the mission as three -- you know, simple parts of what we were really doing over there.
Number one, you know, we need to know how to do gunnery because you had to figure you were going into a fight over there. And that's one of the things that we trained to specifically at the weapons school in our course.
Number two, you had to be able to talk to the guys on the ground so that you were deconflicting with them, et cetera, so that you knew where the good guys are, where the bad guys are, where the civilians are, so that you're not causing any kind of, you know, heaven forbid, fratricide or, you know, putting civilians in harm's way. And that was another piece that, you know, specifically we trained to.
And the third part -- and you know, one of the hardest is shooting brownouts, shooting the approach into a dust bowl where you can't see from 15 feet, sometimes higher, on down as you're trying to land this aircraft. And one of the things that -- again, we've got guys that have been doing it for a while, which helps. We based out of Nellis, which helps. And we were sending guys up to the Canadian Mountain Flying School and learning how -- we were taking really some of the highest-trained pilots in the -- in the Air Force, if not the DOD, really, from -- as far as helicopter pilots go, and sending them up to Canada to learn from guys that had even, you know, three, four times as much flight time as us.
So when you broke it down like that, these guys had the tools. And what -- all they had to do was then shift mindset back. And the consummate professionals that they were, they were able to do that.
Q: Flying out of Bastion, were you -- was there any other type of -- what was the other type of medevac capability that was there before you arrived? Were the Brits flying the medevac missions in there?
COL. BARNETT (?): Yeah.
Q: And what was that like, working with them? I -- from my experience, there -- it was the Army that the Air Force was working directly with, and it was an interesting relationship in which they would trade -- you know, figure out what missions -- and they -- the Army really took advantage of the fact that the HH-60 had the additional power as well as the weapons onboard.
What was that like with your unit when they arrived, working with the Brits and trying to figure out what missions were best for your specific units?
MAJ. CREEL: Go ahead, sir.
COL. BARNETT: The -- it was -- it was very interesting. We worked well with them, you know, as, I guess, compatriots, as, you know, both out there to do the same mission. There was no, you know, kind of animosity or, you know, maybe a little bit of the kind of -- what would you call it -- the professional, you know, competition, but just to be better, not getting in each other's way or anything like that.
The one thing, though, was that there was confusion along the lines of what you're talking about as to who should be doing what mission, because there wasn't anything established when we got there. The Brits, like you said, had been flying a 47, doing the mission in the Helmand River valley for four or five years without having any other assets there, you know, helping them out.
The intelligence officer that I -- that we took with us, a guy by the name of Chandler Atwood, goes by the call sign Fulcrum, from the weapons school -- this guy was invaluable to changing the culture, the control and execution culture of how casualty evacuation was done over there. He took a look at the strengths and the weaknesses, just what you're talking about with regard to, you know, what can a 47 do, and what can we do better. And he developed a system to educate the people that were making those decisions about who would go, to the point in time where he was actually kind of taking over the decisions. (Laughter.)
But -- and that's how we kind of ended up working it out. The 47 -- faster overall, but bigger. And bigger is not always best when you're going into somewhere where people are shooting at you. And we had a couple different missions. Another set of my crews, the guys that had the midnight to noon shift for the entire time, were awarded DFCs.
They went into a hot LZ, into a firefight, to pull -- injured Brit out after the British 47 had tried to go in and had gotten -- had taken a whole bunch -- like 20 rounds or something like that -- and got shot out of the LZ. And our guys were able to get in.
So once we educated -- and really, Chandler, Fulcrum (sp), once he educated and got the word out that, you know, we did certain things better -- we were faster off the mark; like you said, we could go into places where there was a firefight going on, due to the armament and also due to -- having a smaller aircraft helps.
The 47, absolutely better if we had a situation where -- like in the first mission, 47 was the ideal aircraft to go pick a guy up with a head trauma or get him to Kandahar quickly, because now we're talking an hour flight. He's going to make -- he's going to shave some of that time off.
So once we got that kind of worked out, and once we let people know that that was how it needed to go, everything went very smoothly after that.
Now the other piece that took a huge amount of education was the thought that -- you know, because the 47 had a doctor on board, nurses, et cetera, well, if someone is more badly injured, we'll send that. And you would think it does, but the fact of the matter is that the kind of trauma that the soldiers are taking -- you know, whether it's, you know, IED, whether it's, you know, a gunshot wound -- you know, these are healthy young guys.
And I've talked to -- I am not a medical professional, but I did do a lot of research when I came back. And I've talked to some of the top trauma surgeons in the country and guys that have actually deployed in a reserve status and been over there doing the surgery out of, you know, Role 3, you know, small hospitals in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
And talking to these guys, they agree that it doesn't matter who you have in the back of that helicopter. We had --
MR. : You guys had PJs.
COL. BARNETT: Exactly. And a PJ in the back of a helicopter when a guy has got a gunshot wound to the chest is just as valuable, really, as a doc, because the doctors will tell you that their -- can't apply anything more than an EMT can in that situation.
So that was a -- that was a huge thing to try to educate because again, what does that guy need? What does that kid need when he's wounded? He needs to be on an operating table so they can open up and stop that internal bleeding, you know, or get him to someplace where, you know, they can, you know, really fix him up. And it just -- it can't -- it's not going to happen, you know, in that short period of time where you're moving people back and forth from the battlefield.
And that was one thing that we kind of got, I think, a little bit fixed. But it's still -- that may still be an uphill battle.
Q: In terms of flying into Marja, was this the only time in which you did fly into Marja during the day or night? I mean --
COL. BARNETT: Yes.
COL. BARNETT: During the entire time we were there, the only other helicopters that went in were the guys that went in at night to infill that team and then exfill them on the last day.
Q: What was it like? I mean, what was going through your minds when you guys got that mission, doing some of the pre-mission briefs before going in? I mean, you don't really have much time to do a pre- mission brief, but did you guys know that this was a possibility? Did you know this operation was going on?
MAJ. CREEL (?): Oh, yeah, absolutely. We --
Q: I mean, what -- can you describe a little bit of the run-up -- (off mic) --
MAJ. CREEL: Yeah, and we did -- we did the same thing with that operation that we did other operations. We would go to the unit, whether it be the Marines or the -- or the U.K. or the special forces -- in this case, the unit was on Bastion -- and we would be there for their complete briefing that they -- that they had for the assault and, you know, how they were going to do the actions on the objective and all that type of stuff.
And the reason we wanted to know -- the reason we wanted to be there was so they knew that we were going to be there for support, but two, when, where were their vulnerabilities? And that way, we could kind of focus our attention in that one area, still covering, you know, all of our area of operations throughout the whole valley, but we'd always want to know when they were doing something. That way, we could focus there if something happens.
And that's exactly what we did. When we heard that they were in contact for that first mission, we moved to the aircraft before any indication of a casualty happened. So we were already at the aircraft, and that cut down a couple of minutes as well.
But you know, I mean, you're -- if you're -- we push -- you know, we push us, and we push our aircraft. You were with a CSAR unit, right? And, you know, what we talked about before, we came from the weapons school, but we had all been at the units before, just like you flew with, and --
Q: Where -- did you guys deploy to Iraq?
COL. BARNETT: Both.
MAJ. CREEL: Afghanistan and Iraq several times, yeah.
MAJ. CREEL: Yeah, so -- and that was at normal rescue units. So it's not necessarily that we got over there or did anything different than a regular unit; we -- I think that we went over, and we were able to make things better and change some stuff, but the biggest thing that it was is that we were already at a certain level before we went over, whereas if you're at a regular unit, you need -- you need to spin up a little bit, depending on your crews. But the crews are out there doing this right now.
I mean, you got rescue units from the Guard and active duty on alert right now. And if the call comes down, they're going to do the same thing.
But as far as the mission though, you know, when we push our crews and our -- and our aircraft, and the maintenance personnel push their personnel to get all this -- to get all this work into the team, not to mention the PJs and the other support, we do that anyway.
But when you're there talking to the ground force commander and he knows who you are, when you call that person on the radio and that ground force commander knows the voice of the rescue pilot that's going to pick them up, you're going to do what you need to do to figure it out. And that's really the bottom line.
CAPT. RITCHIE: We've run out of time. Can we just get the wrap- up statements, please?
COL. BARNETT: Go ahead.
MAJ. CREEL: I think -- I think that was the main thing that I was just talking about, was, you know, we're up here and, you know, we're getting these awards, but it's not about the award. I mean, the rescue community in the Air Force doesn't do missions for awards. We do it to help people.
That's why we're out there and that's why we're doing it right now. You know, in Kandahar, Bastion, Bagram, right now there's crews that are sitting there and they’re are waiting on someone to call them or they're listening on a satellite communication radio to have any indication of a casualty. And as soon as they get that, they are going. So --
CAPT. RITCHIE: Sir?
COL. BARNETT: Yeah, I would agree with everything that Brian just said. I mean, it's -- the unique thing about this mission is that you're waiting, you know, unfortunately for something to happen. But when it does, the training kicks in. I mean, you're going to go, you're going to help these guys out.
The preparation is everything in this. You know, it's not what you were just asking about -- you know, you don't have a lot of preparation. In reality, you do, because you prepare for this all the time. And that's what -- you have to be preparing for it all the time. Nothing should catch you as -- by surprise in this -- in this mission. You know, it's all thinking through all the contingencies, all the possibilities.
And the way that you make sure that you're in the know is you develop these relationships with the other people that are out there that are conducting the fight on the ground, that are going out and working with the Afghan National Army every day, the guys that are working out at these, you know, smaller operational locations that are not -- you know, even Bastion was large compared to a lot of the places we would end up going, you know, to pick up hurt, you know, Afghan children, civilians and our own soldiers.
So knowing these people and creating this trust that -- you know, you may not be able to get there. You know, it's a fallacy to say that we're going to always necessarily be able to get there, because you can't, because we've lost aircraft going into places where -- aircraft can get shot down. But you're going to do everything you can, you know. You weigh the risks, but you go in.
And there were times on that last mission where, you know, we were offering to go in and pull that first guy and the third guy were both on the roof of a building when they got hit. And the third guy had to -- had taken a round through his neck. And you know, we thought he was going to be gone. So we had offered to come in and do a hoist off that roof, and the commander -- we're talking to the commander on the radio, who we know, and he said -- he's saying, no, you can't do this.
It -- there is too much gunfire in here right now. And so we were compromising, because he's saying I want you to hold, you know, 10 miles to the west. And we're saying, how about I just hold right over the top of you at 800 feet, and we'll just keep moving and, you know, try to avoid the bullets, so that we're there when that guy gets to a place where we can get him off, you know, even if it's a hoist down low off the ground, but you know, off the rooftop of the main building -- you know, he didn't want that for us, you know, and he was making that call.
But to be able to talk to that person and know that that guy is making the right call also comes from building those relationships that over the months that we were out there, going and talking to those guys -- I mean, we weren't going over to them necessarily and, you know, sitting there saying, hey, what's going on all the time. But if they had an upcoming operation, these guys would call us and say, hey, you know, we've got this, we've got the planning going on. Can you guys come down and, you know, check it out, talk to us, you know, make sure you guys know what's going on? And it spanned across the -- all the coalition forces out there.
And I think that that -- those relationships are really what helped us. That and again, I can't say enough about the people that were out there doing the mission, I mean, the maintainers that were running out to the aircraft, flipping switches. You know, as -- before we're getting in the aircraft, I had guys throwing my body armor on me before I was climbing into the aircraft to get me off the ground that second faster, because in reality, you know, there is no golden hour. It's every second is golden. I mean, 15 minutes may be too long to take to get somebody back to the operating table. So I would say that's it.
CAPT. RITCHIE: All right. Thank you, gentlemen. (Off mic.)
COL. BARNETT: Yeah, it's -- yeah. Thanks. (Inaudible.)
CAPT. RITCHIE: (Off mic.) All right. Thank you -- (inaudible).