News: Maine's Black Bears save lives in Iraq
By Capt. Katherine Zyla
449th Theater Aviation Brigade
TALLIL, Iraq – A Maine National Guard Medevac Company recently completed their
nine-month deployment and will return home after flying more than 3,000 hours
and evacuating more than 670 patients.
Soldiers of Company C, 1-126th Black Bears pride themselves in being an air ambulance unit, where every mission is critical and the crew functions
under the expectation and commitment to rescue those injured.
"Depending on how you look at it, each mission is a success. We go out every day and move patients," said Maj. Brian J. Veneziano, Commander, C/1- 126, "Think about how many people's lives we influence, not only the ones we are saving, but also those who care for the injured personnel."
Veneziano said their mission is not easy, especially when a patient has passed away.
"Losing someone is extremely emotional and painful for everyone, but to see my Soldiers remain calm and do their job, shows the caliber of medics we have in C/1-126," said Veneziano, a Herman, Maine native and 18-year guardsmen. "Every medic can tell you a story from this deployment that will make hair on the back of your neck stand up."
Pilots and crew chiefs also play a critical role in medevac missions. Not only do they fly in severe weather, but they also render aid as appropriate. All pilots and crew chiefs have rudimentary medical training and are combat life savers.
"To see an aircraft mechanic calmly help administer oxygen to a severely injured patient is eye opening," said Veneziano.
The Black Bears had one particularly memorable mission when a team on the ground came under hostile fire. One Soldier died, and two were severely injured. The air crew flew in limited-visibility weather, successfully evacuated the injured Soldiers and helped save their lives. The crew members were awarded U.S. Army Air Medals.
"I am most proud of the fact that we never knew what we were going to get, but we never failed to get there," said Veneziano. "We had zero dropped missions [accomplished all missions]; and were always within the Golden Hour [first hour after an accident, where chances of survival are greatly increased]."
The Black Bears not only worked together to save lives, but also successfully set up their fourth MEDEVAC site from scratch, extending their reach and making operations even more effective. The C/1-126 Soldiers were responsible for developing the site to include all logistical, communication, maintenance and life support efforts.
"One of the greatest things about a MEDEVAC unit, whether you're transporting patients, maintaining aircraft, facilitating logistics, etc., is we work as a team and put our mission first," said 1st Lt. Brian F. McClellan, operations officer, C/1-126. "Medevac is based on speed, and it is critical our sites are fully operational at all times, so we can respond to those on the ground."
The Soldiers used their civilian job skills - carpentry, electrical and communication and contracting - to make the new site's work and living areas as comfortable as possible, which is essential when crew rest plays such a vital role. Some of the Soldiers argued it was the best place on camp.
"We have a lot of moving parts: guys on the ground calling in the grid coordinate; maintainers ensuring aircraft are fully operational; and crew members ready to fly. Everyone is vital to our mission, and timing is everything; lives are at risk, and we have to be ready at all times," said McClellan, a native of Eliot, Maine.
The C/1-126 team, consisting of flight crews, medical staff, maintainers, supply and administrative personnel, is self sufficient and structured similarly to an aviation battalion. Everything from aircraft maintenance to awards paperwork is done internally.
"I am very proud to have all the different job functions that make us a stand-alone company," said Veneziano. "We have enjoyed a very good operational
readiness rate, and the mission success we share helps keep morale high. It is contagious."
McClellan added that everyone in the unit has specific roles. Regardless of job, the Soldiers are a team, and the non-commissioned officers lead the way with their knowledge, training and mentoring junior Soldiers; they fully understand the mission and how their individual roles support it.
The C/1-126 Black Bears, named after the University of Maine, transitioned from a legacy MEDEVAC company in October 2006. When the company was alerted in 2007, they received a legacy mission, meaning the team had to be rebuilt.
"My personal key to success was being able to pick my team," said Veneziano. "I would put the company's leadership against any aviation battalion in theater to staff problems, develop courses of action and execute missions."
Date Posted:01.08.2009 09:47
Location:TALLIL AIR BASE, IQ
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