News: A Medical History: Departing Naval Detachment treated thousands
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – After more than a half a decade of duty on some of the driest land on the planet, the 2515th Naval Air Ambulance Detachment has folded its flag, leaving behind a legacy of care and joint service in Kuwait and Iraq.
The detachment, which treated and transported thousands of patients since its formation in 2005, turned over its missions and duties to Company C, 1st General Support Aviation Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment in May. The last of the detachment, some of whom call themselves "desert sailors" or "sand sailors," left Kuwait in June.
“It’s very rewarding to know you actually helped someone today,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Poggio, detachment executive officer, of Schooley’s Mountain, N.J. “Over the last seven years, 2,293 patients were taken to hospitals, and had a much better shot at survival,” he stressed.
Along the way, detachment aircrews – which included United States Navy corpsmen, Air Force pararescuemen and Army flight medics – found common ground and learned from their differences.
"The medical service is one big conglomerate," said Staff Sgt. Walters, an Army flight medic from Yakima, Wash., who was part of the detachment. "You no longer have a single service working independently anymore."
Answering the Call
In 2005, the Navy agreed to help the Army cover medevac missions in Kuwait, according to the detachment’s history. Lacking dedicated medevac assets, the Navy formed the detachment using personnel of the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 and Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 15, and took the numbers from the names of those squadrons to form the new detachment’s name, 2515th NAAD.
With its HH-60H Seahawk helicopters, MH-60S Seahawk helicopters and other aircraft, the detachment became operational at here at Udairi Army Airfield in November 2005, and was assigned to evacuate the injured and wounded throughout Kuwait and the Northern Persian Gulf. Over time, Navy personnel from HSC-21, HSC-23, and HSC-85 – including pilots, aircrew members and maintenance personnel – would perform tours of duty with the detachment.
The detachment showed a great deal of innovation and flexibility to meet the needs of the new mission, according to the history. Among other things, the unit modified and adapted some of its equipment, and its pilots learned how to operate in the environments of Iraq and Kuwait.
This included learning how to fly and operate safely in the desert, and make what they called "brown-out landings," to pick up patients from secure landing zones near the point-of-injury, said to Lt. David Larnerd, a detachment pilot from Edgewater, Md. This is a different challenge than operating over the ocean, requiring pilots to make a steady descent, he added.
"Just about the time the sand and dust are catching up to you, your wheels are on the deck," he said.
The unit also added search and rescue medical technicians (SMTs), Army flight medics and Air Force pararescuemen to its aircrews. These additions were the only medical personnel in the theater of operations trained to keep patients alive during search-and-rescue missions, casualty-evacuation missions and medevac missions for up to 72 hours without a physician’s aid, according to the unit’s history.
Stepping into the gap, United Kingdom military forces withdrew from Iraq in 2009, the detachment took on more personnel and helicopters to provide medevac coverage for southern areas of Iraq. Known as 2515 NAAD-North, personnel covering these areas were based in Combat Operating Base Basra in Iraq.
“Maintaining medevac coverage until the last day of Operation New Dawn, Detachment North withdrew from COB Basra on 18 December 2011,” the unit’s history reads. “Escorting convoys to Kuwait, the detachment’s helicopters were the last U.S. military rotary-wing aircraft to leave Iraq.”
The crews also maintained the standard response time, getting airborne and on the way to the wounded within a 15 minutes of receiving the call for medevac assistance, according to Larnerd and the unit history. In March, detachment aircrews picked up a number of third-country nationals injured in a bus rollover on Iron Horse Road, he recalled.
The corpsman and other medical personnel lead the way when it comes to care, he said. In one case where a patient had an injury that could've led to paralysis, the corpsman told the pilots to fly slow and steady.
"In the aircraft, we're just the bus drivers," Larnerd said. "They're telling us what they need."
The detachment also developed joint tactics, techniques and procedures with other units, trained Iraqi soldiers and helped Army battalions units qualify their standardization instructor pilots in shipboard landings.
Though their jargon was different, this conglomerate of military medical personnel found common ground in the ways they accomplished their mission – care of the wounded.
"For the most part it was pretty seamless," Larnerd said. "[The Navy corpsmen] worked hand with the Army flight medics. Medical teams are medical teams, and they all seemed to be talking the same lingo.”
He adopted some Army acronyms, Larnerd added.
Though learning the lingo was half the battle, they also learned how other services operate, said Chief Steven Turo, a Navy medevac crew chief from Genoa, N.Y. Army personnel seem to have different scope of responsibility, and Army pilots fly differently, he added.
"It taught me that there are different perspectives," Turo said. "Just because they do things differently doesn't make it wrong. There are different ways to solve problems."
He's sure the Army found the Navy different, too, he said.
"But yet we were able to come together to complete a mission," Turo concluded.
"There's more than one way to skin a cat," he said. "Each service is able to perform the mission successfully."
To Walters, the services form the thread of care for the injured and wounded.
"As an Army flight medic, it's not uncommon to pick up a patient from the Navy at a forward surgical team and move him to an Air Force hospital," he explained.
Walters learned some things too.
"I've kind of learned to speak Navy, and how the Navy utilizes its [non-commissioned officers]," he said.
Citing the fact that some medical personnel from different services train together at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, Larnerd said he believes that the military is moving toward more joint operations.
One of the benefits of joint operations, Poggio stressed, is to "steal the good ideas from each other so our respective organizations get stronger, especially with coming budget constraints." Being exposed to the Army culture was rewarding, he added.
“There’s lots of different parts to the war machine,” he said, explaining that the Army establishes multiple assets in forward areas. “We have to take everything with us all the time. We just take what you can fit in the ship, no more, no less.”
Camp Buehring is more comfortable than a ship, “by leaps and bounds,” Turo stressed. The wait for chow is shorter, and the chow is better, he added.
“This sort of deployment has been a gem for us,” Turo said. “We appreciate the small things that soldiers take for granted on base.”
Still, the parting is bittersweet, said Larnerd.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a desert sailor or sand sailor,” he said.