Thursday, January 17, 2008

Medevac! Medevac! Medevac!

I went on a Medevac flight on Tuesday, with an active duty Medevac unit from Fort Cambell Kentucky. The Medevac pad is on the opposite side of the airfield from 2-147th AHB, and we just asked if we could hang out for the day, and go on some missions, and the Medevac company commander graciously made us right at home.

I didn't shoot very many photos, or any useful video on the one flight I was able to go on. I was pretty much stuck in my center seat without a lot of visibility, but it was an amazing experience that will definitely stick with me.

This photo of a flight medic racing to his helicopter on a razor scooter is one of my favorite images of this trip to Iraq.

Here is the choronology of my medevac mission:

I had just taken my first few bites of lunch with SSG Anthony Cox and SGT Carmen Catalioti the flight medic and crew chief of the medivac helicopter that I had been assigned to for the day when the big voice started blairing "Medevac! Medevac! Medevac!"

0:00 SSG Cox and SGT Catolioti push back their chairs and run for the door of the little chow hall behind the Medivac operation center. One of the other pilots asks if we want him to save our food... I don't think anybody answers.

1:00 I'm in the ready room frantically grabbing my video camera, body armor, and camera bag.

1:30 I'm outside the ready room looking for SSG Cox and SGT Catolioti. I see them sprinting to the aircraft half way down the flight line. Somebody says, "You better run!"

2:30 I'm on the helicopter, totally winded after running 100 meters carrying my body armor and camera gear. The rotors are starting to turn.

7:15 We are airborne! We take off very fast and are probably at less than 100 feet off the ground as we cross the wire of the base perimeter fence.

9:30 I'm listening on the headset. The pilot says we are headed to Samara (40 kilometer north along the Tigris river). We're less than 10 minutes out.

12:00 I'm in the trail aircraft, and I hear our pilot tell the lead aircraft to "Watch those power lines!" We're flying lower and faster than any helicopter ride I've ever been on. The TRQ LED display reads 90+%, and our airspeed never drops below 150 knots.

17:15 We're on the ground outside the wire at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on the outskirts of Samara. No patient in sight. There is a brief discussion of whether or not we are at the right place.

19:00 An ambulance appears carrying an injured Iraqi Police officer. He has gunshot wounds to both thighs.

25:00 The patient is on board the lead aircraft.

27:00 Airborne again. We make several banking turns so steep that the rotors are almost perpendicular to the ground.

28:00 We are low and fast over downtown Samara.

34:00 Pilot, "We just went right over a flock of birds. I wonder how they like us flying over the top of them?"

37:00 My aircraft "07" is cleared by Balad control direct to the FARP (fuel point).

39:00 Crossing the Tigris river.

39:50 We hear over the radio that the lead aircraft "05" is on the ground at the "cas pad" (the helipad at the Air Force Theater Hospital).

41:20 "07" is on the ground at the FARP for a "hot" refuel with the engines running.

46:00 Full fuel.

47:15 Airborne. Cleared direct to the Medevac parking area. We go over the top of an F-16 sitting in the middle of the runway surrounded by emergency vehicles. Our pilots speculate that he has probably blown an engine.

50:10 Wheels down at the Medevac parking area.

55:00 Crew unloading personal weapons, "weapons green!"

55:45 Rotors stopped.

57:00 Pilot CW3 Tory Koselke comments that he has more "boots untied" flight hours in Iraq than "boots tied" flight hours. As he gets out of the aircraft and ties his desert combat boots. He was sleeping with his boots off when the alarm sounded, and he dashed to the aircraft without stopping to tie them.

Medevac pilot CW3 Tory Koselke, from Fort Cambell Kentucky ties his boots AFTER completing a Medevac mission in Balad, Iraq.

There is a very real sense that EVERY second counts. As one soldier tells me, "We go from 0 to 90 in 0 seconds when the alarm sounds!"


Anonymous said...

Good stuff Eric. Thanks for an inside look.
Jim C

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric

These are great photos. Would you be interested in being featured in Waypoint AirMed & Rescue magazine, which features stories on military medivac?


James Wallis
title editor

Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure how SSG Cox won the race to his Momma's egg. He is a disgrace to the flight medic community. I most remember him for laying on the ground in a heap with a nearly unnoticeable piece of "shrapnel" in his arm, as two of my pilots were suffering from actual injuries while we were trying to train him to perform the mission. Also Eric, it's spelled "Medevac!, Medevac!, Medevac!". It stands for medical evacuation. Great, now my PTSD is kicking in.

Eric Bowen said...

Thanks for spelling correction.

Trying to come up with a humorous response to the SSG Cox and PTSD comments, and I'm drawing a blank...

On the serious side: I think when it come to mental health and general life happiness after being a part of this sort of shit you just have to find a way to focus on the positive memories vs. fixating on the negative (it's better to tell stories about the ones you saved than the ones you lost... even if you can't control what things come back to you in the middle of the night).

Just my opinion... your mileage may vary...

Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)

Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: