HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. – Retired Army Col. Ben Knisely’s connection to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment goes beyond rescuing wounded from the battlefield. As a lieutenant, he was assigned to the 498th Air Ambulance Company, which was later reflagged C/2-3 General Support Aviation Battalion.
Knisely was invited back to his former unit Dec. 16 by its current commander, Maj. Jason Jones, to share a piece of history and the experience many in the room knew all too well.
Knisely shared his emotional experiences before a roomful of Soldiers after they watched ‘When I Have Your Wounded’, a documentary that highlights the legacy of Maj. Charles L. Kelly who fathered the role of MEDEVAC in combat operations during the Vietnam War.
Knisely’s helicopter was shot down during the battle of Hue-Phu Bai while attempting a hoist mission in the A Shau valley. His medical evacuation helicopter was damaged by a rocket propelled grenade before the crash. After being dragged to safety by his co-pilot, the two evaded capture for three days without food or water as the enemy was nearby on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Over time, helicopters and equipment have improved, but the role of MEDEVAC has remained unchanged. Like Knisely, MEDEVAC pilots, crew chiefs, and medics are taught to not consider the threat; they are taught to get the wounded.
Army Staff Sgt. Zackery Blansett, an Army flight medic with C/2-3 is familiar with MEDEVAC operations in a combat environment. It was obvious for him to see in the video how the aircraft had changed; the mission however, was strangely similar.
“The similarities I would have to say would be seeing everything we have to deal with now, they still dealt with then: manpower, timing, and how we prepare for missions,” said Blansett. “The differences would have to be the equipment and the experience in training.”
Following the documentary, Knisely told his combat story to the group and apologized ahead of time for getting emotional. He said it was the first time telling the story to a group, and that most of the time he will only explain it to Family members. His composure was impressive during the recollection of events, even telling the occasional joke for levity.
“We had decided between the two of us that if we heard anybody in a rescue mode that we would wait until we look them in the eye to make sure they were Americans. That was our plan,” said Knisely, when discussing the rescue plan with his co-pilot.
Knisely later jokes about himself and his co-pilot jumping up and waving their arms at the sound of an approaching voice saying, “hey DUSTOFF.” He said that contrary to what they agreed was the plan, both of them just yelled for help, joked Knisely.