CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE COBRA, Iraq (5/31/11) - Despite fierce 50-knot winds and blowing dust, an HH-60M Black Hawk medevac helicopter crew of the Vermont National Guard, circled Contingency Operating Site Cobra, focused on the importance of their mission—evacuating an injured Soldier to medical care April 4.
After a Soldier from 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, suffered serious injuries, medics at the COS Cobra aid station quickly realized the raging dust storm outside would turn an otherwise routine medevac mission into an extraordinary flight.
Like any other day, air ambulance crews from Company C, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment waited for calls.
“The initial call was just like running [civilian emergency medical services], said Army Staff Sgt. Richard Maye, a crew medic. “You’re always on call waiting for the phone to go off saying someone needs help somewhere.”
The medevac crew consists of Army National Guard members who serve in a medical capacity, but also in careers related to rotary wing aircraft.
“I’m an oddity in the guard,” Maye said. “During the [drill] weekend and deployment I’m a medic, but during the week I’m a federal technician. I turn wrenches on the [helicopters].”
The two crew chiefs for the mission were Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Wilson, a federal helicopter technician, and Sgt. Ron Irwin, a toolmaker for aircraft engines.
The pilot in command was Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Carlton Fuller, a civil engineer, and the co-pilot was Chief Warrant Officer 4 Philip Small, who works for the Vermont National guard full-time.
When medics at COS Cobra called in the medevac request, the team immediately jumped into action.
“It was dusty,” Fuller said with a wry laugh.
“If it had been any worse that day, we wouldn’t have been legally allowed to take off,” Wilson said.
Less than 15 minutes after the call, the crew lifted off into the brown skies over northern Iraq and battled the winds as they headed for COS Cobra.
“We were all happy to be on the ground, but at that point we were concentrating on getting the patient on board,” Wilson said.
Once the patient was loaded, Fuller and Small lifted the helicopter into the storm once again.
“It got a little exciting until we levelled off,” Wilson said.
After safely transporting the patient to the Joint Base Balad hospital, the crew members said they were proud to brave the storm to help a fellow Soldier.
The injured Soldier subsequently returned to the U.S. and was successfully recovering in early May.
“It’s a common feeling in the medevac community,” Wilson said. “It’s nice to do the mission that you train for. You look forward to doing them, but at the same time it means someone else is hurt. When you actually do the mission it’s fulfilling.”
Maye said even when the weather goes bad, medevac crews still fulfil their duties.
“We did our job. When people are hurt, we go get them.”