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Minnesota National Guard
Charlie Med trains for Afghanistan at Ft Hood

FORT HOOD, Texas – In a country with few roads – and even fewer decent roads, plus a very real IED threat – ambulances rarely travel on the ground

In Afghanistan, when American and NATO military forces call for an ambulance, they look to the sky

In a matter of minutes, tiny black specks in the distance turn into full-size Black Hawk helicopters on the landing zone Immediately, skilled medics disembark They quickly evaluate the casualties, load them on the aircraft, and treat them during the flight to a medical facility

Speed is everything, said senior flight medic Sgt. 1st Class Robert Ford, an observer controller/trainer with the 166th Aviation Brigade

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“There are reports of Soldiers getting hit on the battlefield who are rolling into surgery 15 minutes later,” Ford said “The number of Soldiers dying (in combat) is down because they’re able to get to definitive care so quickly”

Ford and other 166th AV Bde Soldiers are currently training an Army National Guard air ambulance company at Fort Hood for the unit’s deployment to Afghanistan in June

Although Company C, 1st General Support Aviation Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment, is headquartered in Santa Fe, NM, sections of the unit also come from Arizona and Minnesota Many of the 100-plus pilots, crew chiefs, medics and support personnel never met before they arrived in Texas for training

“This is a crucial training phase,” said C/1-171 commander, Maj Christopher Holland, from Albuquerque, NM “We’ve never trained together, and we’re coming together for the first time We have to be prepared to fight together

“This is the last chance we’re going to get to hone our skills before deploying,” Holland added “Our mission’s real simple: save lives on the battlefield Pick up patients and get them to a medical facility as quickly as possible I don’t think there’s any mission on the battlefield that’s more important”

Many of the National Guard medics have similar civilian professions

Sgt Troy Hayes, from Arizona, is a police officer and flight medic for the Arizona State Police who last deployed in the early 1990s to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm He arrived at a Fort Hood landing zone during a May 16 training exercise expecting four patients, instead finding about 30

“It’s good to get training you’re not expecting,” Hayes said “It keeps you on your toes”

Staff Sgt Tym Larson, from Eloy, Ariz, has worked 25 years as a paramedic firefighter and flight medic
Afghanistan will be his first military deployment

As the lead medic on the ground during the May 16 mass casualty training exercise, Larson had to determine not only the number of casualties, but the categories of casualties Next, he had to ascertain how many aircraft and personnel were available to respond Finally, he had to find out what medical facilities could accept patients, and how many they could accept

“You can’t take all 30 people to one place; that would overwhelm them,” Larson explained “You can take two, maybe three or even four patients to one place You might not be able to take any to some facilities It just depends”

As if that were not enough jobs to juggle, medevac crews also have to secure the landing zone and protect themselves and their patients from hostile fire Generally, civilian emergency responders do not have people shooting at them at accident sites

“We have to get them to think tactically In a combat environment, you might be landing in an LZ that’s hot You want to make sure you have your weapon to protect yourself and your patient,” Ford said

The National Guard Soldiers will also have to get used to being surrounded by Marines and Sailors while they are deployed They will be in Afghanistan’s Regional Command Southwest, which is commanded by a Marine two-star general

“We’re the only Army aviation asset in RC Southwest,” said Capt Aaron Kinney, executive officer of Company C, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, which C/1-171 will replace in a few weeks “Marines have no organic medevac, so they need Army (medevac)”

The 166th AV Bde arranged for Kinney to come from Afghanistan and spend several days with the National Guard Soldiers while they are training at Fort Hood
Kinney is providing critical, real-time information on what the deploying Soldiers can expect for missions, enemy threats, living conditions and environment

Kinney is also teaching a crash course in Marine aviation lingo, which is “completely different” from the Army’s
“Instead of a convoy, it’s ‘holding hands’ It’s not a sister ship, it’s a ‘playmate,’” Kinney said

The opportunity to talk with Kinney is “priceless,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Lonnie Colson, an instructor pilot from Santa Fe who joined the National Guard in 1977 and has deployed twice before

“He gets it He knows what we need He’s been in every one of the places we’re going to be,” Colson said “He’s read-in on everything that’s going on there He stacked the deck for us He wants us to succeed”

By Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braymen
Division West Public Affairs
20 May, 2011

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