Time Critical for Medevac Crews

By Pfc. Monica K. Smith, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq, Nov. 27, 2007 - "Medevac! Medevac! 2nd Up." As the call comes over the radio, the living room of the pilots, crew chiefs and medics of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, springs to life.

Soldiers scramble to grab their gear and run to the Black Hawk helicopters that will carry them to the site where a patient waits for a lift to 25th Combat Surgical Hospital, in Baghdad.

Speed is key to these medical evacuation soldiers whose sole mission is to transfer patients to medical facilities at Baghdad and Balad.

"Time is the most important (element)," said Chief Warrant Officer Travis Powell, a pilot in Co. C. "We take pride in trying to be the fastest aircraft off the ground."

The medevac company is allotted 15 minutes from the initial call to when the aircraft is off the ground, but for Co. C the time from the call to "wheels up" is less than 10 minutes said Sgt. Reid Carpenter, a flight medic with Co. C. Patients are usually picked up within 40 minutes depending on the pick-up site, Carpenter said.

The medevac company picks up three classes of patients: urgent, priority and routine. Urgent patients typically have gunshot wounds, and the pilots have no more than an hour to move the patients to a medical facility. Priority patients have four hours to be moved, but have the potential to become urgent. Routine patients are those whose circumstances are not life threatening, such as a doctor's appointment. The majority of patients are urgent and priority from gun shot wounds or Humvees rolling over an improvised explosive device, Powell said.

To conserve life-saving time, the company prepares the aircraft and gear in advance. A preflight run-up of the aircraft begins at 6 a.m. daily, when a health indicator test is performed on the engines, radios are set, equipment is loaded, and gear is sitting ready in the cockpit.

"We have a dedicated phone for medevac calls," said Capt. Shane Miller, of Co. C, 2-3 Aviation Regiment. "When the call comes, the (pilot) and crew chief go directly to the aircraft to run up the aircraft, while the other pilot gets information on the patient and where to pick them up. Then it's 'Go! Go! Go!'"

The ground units also assist in speeding the process of transporting patients. Ground units provide a pinpoint eight-digit grid coordinate and mark landing areas to signal pilots so the units are not searching for a place to land.

"We fly as fast as the aircraft will go," Powell said. "It's pretty exciting. Speed is the essence (of our job)."

(Army Pfc. Monica K. Smith is assigned to 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.)

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Time Critical for Medevac Crews [ ]