News: Helicopter rescue crews bring reality to training
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Flying a mission of mercy is what Chief Warrant Officer Michael Reisig said he loves about his job as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot for the Wyoming Army National Guard.
“I’m there to help the guy on the ground. I’m there to make sure that every soldier makes it home when he deploys,” Reisig said. “If I can save just one more guy and get him home to his family, that’s what it is all about.”
From June 21-23, the soldiers of Charlie Med tested their abilities to rescue injured and ill personnel from simulated combat zones and other precarious situations. With helicopters and personnel operating from Cheyenne, missions were called in using military codes, and helicopters, fully equipped with medical personnel and supplies launched to their destinations in Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center, Wyo.
C Company, 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, has the distinction of being the most deployed unit in the Wyoming Army National Guard. Charlie Med, as the soldiers refer to their unit, has seen tours of duty for its pilots, medics, maintenance personnel and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters since Desert Storm.
A three-year rotation to Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, recently came to a close, allowing the unit to turn its focus back to training and preparing for missions at home and in combat.
Sgt. Eric Cothren, a flight medic with the unit and a firefighter in Denver, said the roles of his medical team and what his civilian counterparts do are closely related.
“We go out and we pick the patients up at the point of injury,” he said. “We get them back to the hospital in the rear and get the surgical interventions they need to stabilize them, and then we pick that same patient up and transport them to the higher level of care.”
There are a few differences between what is expected of military medics and with their civilian counterparts, Cothren said. “Not only do we go out and pick up the patient, we’re also doing a lot of post-surgical transports where we’re doing a lot of things that a nurse would do. We’re maintaining sedation on (post-surgical patients) which requires a higher standard of care than a regular medic would do.”
Cothren said many of Charlie Med’s medics are civilian paramedics, with a host of skills and experience through their civilian occupation, that save soldiers on the battlefield. It was something he first saw back when the unit first deployed to Desert Storm. He said he still sees it with the current deployments.
“All of the regular (emergency medical technician) basics were trained to a higher level, thanks to these paramedics. We were able to give a much higher standard of care than a lot of previous units that were MEDEVAC, that were able to give,” he said of that first deployment. “The first rotation was credited with an almost 60-percent increase in saves.”
Reisig said, “The best thing about (this training) is it gives you that unknown, that sense of ‘I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I still have to go on with my day. When we come in for our one weekend a month we know what’s going to happen, but when we come in for our two weeks in the summer and we do this 72-hour ops we don’t know if we have to get up at 2 in the morning, we don’t know if it’s going to happen in the shower, we don’t know if it’s going to be when we’re eating. Maybe we will be out at the aircraft, already ready, you just don’t know and that’s the best part of the training.”
Simulated missions included the use of hoists and the loading and unloading of patients on litters. Both types of missions fit into what Charlie Med’s combat and noncombat roles require.
When not rescuing soldiers and civilians from the battlefield, Charlie Med soldiers may be called on for search and rescue missions, rescuing people from areas not accessible by ambulances and not suitable for landing. As with events like Hurricane Katrina, those same helicopters may rescue people off of roof tops, or land to pick up those in need of medical attention.
As with both the state-side missions and those in combat, Charlie Med crews leave the ground with no major weapon systems on board. The helicopters fly with red crosses painted on them, picking up protection from gunships only when the combat zone dictates it.
“There’s also the times where not having the weapons is also the good thing,” Reisig said, referring to the way the United States conducts medical operations in compliance with the Geneva Convention. “It’s kind of a morale thing, almost, in this battle that we’re in today. We don’t go out there with weapons. We don’t break the rules. We don’t cheat. We do what’s right and we get the mission done.”