FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan -- The churning blades threw a cloud of dust in the air as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter prepared to touch down aboard Forward Operating Base Delaram II, Nimroz province, Afghanistan, March 11, 2014.
Waiting at the ready by the door of the helicopter, the crew chiefs prepared to make an expedient exit, watching from the window as the Marines on the ground lugged the litter toward the landing zone. Within a moment of reaching the earth, the doors flew open and the litter was rushed inside. They seemed to depart as quickly as they had arrived, now with a simulated casualty in tow, already receiving medical care as they began to hover once again above the landing zone.
The medical evacuation training evolution was designed to test the Army medical evacuation crew’s combat readiness capabilities when conducting an in-flight patient triage on a simulated casualty.
The crew is known as "Dust off,” which has been the tactical call sign since adopted by the U.S. Army’s 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) during the Vietnam War. Chosen from a list of unused call signs, “Dust off” epitomized the missions they carried out, as clouds of dust were thrown into the air when their helicopters took off or landed. In addition, many in the Army medevac community now use the call sign as an acronym for their mission: Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces.
“We provide casualty evacuation to coalition forces in the immediate area,” said CWO2 Chris Chartrand, a pilot with Golf Company, 2-135th General Support Aviation Battalion. “It gives peace of mind to coalition forces leaving the wire. They go out knowing someone has their back no matter what.”
The Army National Guardsmen take a great deal of pride in their main task of saving soldiers’ lives when called upon.
“We have the best mission in the military,” said Army Sgt. Steven Leflar, a crew chief with Golf Co. Everyone on the team was looking forward to deploying for that reason, he said.
“This is our first time in Afghanistan,” said Chartrand, a native of Tonganoxie, Kan. “This is one of our smaller units out here. Everyone out here gets along really well; we have a very good relationship with everyone.”
Medical evacuations conducted by Army medevac crews in Afghanistan perform to the standard of the “golden hour,” the hour immediately following traumatic injury in which medical treatment to prevent irreversible internal damage and optimize the chance of survival is most effective. Medevac crews strive to deliver the wounded personnel to the nearest medical facility within this hour-long window, measured from the time the crew first receives a call from the unit.
Having rehearsed many times before, they know exactly what each crew member is capable of and how they will react in any given situation.
“I’m very satisfied with the training that went on,” said Leflar. “It’s important that we train like this any chance we get. This training does and will continue to save lives.”
Medevac crews have been operating out of FOB Delaram II in support of coalition forces patrolling in the surrounding areas of Helmand province.
“If troops are out in the field, they know we’re here,” said Leflar, a native of Denver, Colo. “This is one of the best groups of guys I’ve worked with.”
The crew will continue to train for future operations while stationed at FOB Delaram II until the base is handed over to 4th Brigade, 215th Corps, Afghan National Army.