Lonestar Dustoff MEDEVAC supports Marines in Iraq

Story by Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

AL ASAD, Iraq(April 30, 2004) — The Marine lay in the Army medical evacuation helicopter while an Army flight medic went to work stabilizing his broken leg. He thought about the rocket-propelled grenade that had hit his leg, and about why it hadn't exploded when it hit him.

Staff Sgt. Bryan P. Resh, flight medic, Army 507th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), also thought about the Marine's situation, while he continued to work on the leg. On one hand, the Marine was lucky to be alive. On the other, he did just get evacuated from a firefight because he got shot with an RPG.

The medic said he and his fellow crewmembers decided that today had to be the Marine's day.

"We were discussing whether it was the luckiest day of his life or the worst," the Shelton, Neb., native said. "He was busted up, but (the RPG) didn't go off. He didn't lose his life or his leg. I'd say it was the luckiest."

Whether it was luck or good planning, the events set in motion long before this late-April day, brought this and many other Marines under the care of the 507th Medical Company, nicknamed the Lonestar Dustoff.

Picking up Marines and soldiers is their mission, according to Army Maj. Jack R. Leech, the 507th's commander.

"We stand ready 24-hours a day, seven-days a week to evacuate casualties by air to the appropriate level of care," the Louisville, Ky., native explained in a letter to his family. "We are in direct support of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force."

The company of soldiers arrived in Iraq mid-February to perform MEDEVAC missions for the Camp Pendleton-based Marine unit. They are attached to Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The area of responsibility for the Lonestar Dustoff is the Al Anbar Province in Western Iraq, which was under the control of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C., only a few months ago.

Because the Dustoff is the only full Army unit based with the Marines, there was an initial adjustment period for both services, explained Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Scott E. Nicholson, MEDEVAC pilot-in-command, 507th Medical Company (Air Ambulance).

"Obviously, there are growing pains," the Temple, Texas native noted. "It's a whole new experience for the Army and Marines to integrate for such a long period of time. There's an education process that goes both ways."

The change is different, but not unwelcome to the soldiers, according to Spc. Wesley K. Hill, UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief, 507th Medical Company (Air Ambulance).

"It's a different experience as far as the (working) environment," said the Van, Texas native. "We're used to the Army atmosphere. The Marines run things a little different, but you just adapt and adjust and it all comes together."

The 33-year-old crew chief explained that the Marines he's seen have really helped the MEDEVAC crew perform their jobs.

"I am really impressed how they set up perimeters at the (landing zones) when we land," he said. "I also appreciate the chaser support they provide. I have gained a lot of respect for them because of their attitude."

The chaser support comes in the form of an armed Marine AH-1W Cobra that is responsible for the security of the immediate area around the Blackhawk during the entirety of each flight. Leech remarked that the crews don't usually have chaser support, but the escort's benefits have done the aircrews a lot of good, especially with all the anti-coalition attacks happening in the Western Area, which includes the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad.

"The support we get from the escort has been tremendous," he said. "The deterrent they provide can really make a difference between one of our crews getting shot down or not."

He noted that the Cobra pilots are selfless in their protection of the MEDEVAC crews who save the lives of their fellow Marines on the ground.

"They put themselves between us and the greatest perceived threat," he said. "They do everything they can to allow us to do our mission."

That mission usually requires the Dustoff aircrews to be in the air in as short a period of time as possible to give the patients the best chance of survival, said Resh.

"The biggest thing we battle as far as injuries is speed because of vascular compromise, which can result in loss of life or limb," he revealed. "We can be off the ground in eight to 10 minutes. That is from the time the phone rings till we're in the air."

Just as the MEDEVAC crews gain a psychological benefit from the Cobra escorts, the ground Marines and soldiers also get a confidence boost from the quick response of the Dustoff, he added.

"It's a big morale booster when the ground guys call and we can get there in half the time they think it'll take," he exclaimed. "Nothing beats getting there and they aren't ready because they thought it would take longer."

This speed is one of the reasons that Dustoff has developed such an important meaning to the company. The nickname originated in Vietnam, when the MEDEVAC helicopters would fly in to a hot zone, grab the wounded and take off in seconds, "dusting off" any personnel standing around.

Over time, the Army eventually turned the name into an acronym which describes everything the unit stands for, claimed Leech. It stands for "dedicated unhesitating support to our fighting forces," which is what he has his unit provide.

Nicholson was quick to point out that there is no service or country designator anywhere in their title.

"If there is a wounded person on the battlefield, we will get them," he concluded. "We treat them all the same and that is with the best care we can to save their lives. We haul all spectrums."

"If they are a living, breathing human, they can go in our aircraft," he finished.

Leech agreed with Nicholson and added that it shows the compassion of our armed forces that we will treat even our enemy's wounded.

"I'm proud that we do the right thing; that we set the example and will treat even our enemies," he said. "If the (terrorists) get there hands on us, we've seen what can happen, but we respect when someone has lost the ability to fight. I wish everyone had the same respect for human life."

Hill concluded that sometimes it is a difficult job "doing the right thing" as his commander put it.

"Picking up the enemy wounded shows how gracious we are as a nation," he said. "We have compassion and we show it. It is hard when you have to transport our wounded and theirs, but somebody has to be the grown up."

According to the soldier, even though it is hard, helping others is what keeps the crews going and will keep them going in the future.

"It makes me feel part of something important when we're doing what we can to get someone out of a bad spot," he concluded. "We might save (someone's) leg or life. You feel good when you save a life, and we get to be part of that."

 

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Army Staff Sgt. Bryan P. Resh, medic, and Spc. Wesley K. Hill, UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief (both in flight equipment), with the 507th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), assist medical personnel from a Combat Support Hospital, with loading their transit patient into a medical humvee after he was medically evacuated to the facility for treatment, April 26. Resh, a Shelton, Neb., native and Hill, a Van, Texas, native, airlifted the Iraqi worker to the CSH from Al Asad, Iraq, where the worker broke his leg while working aboard the installation. The medical company MEDEVACs anyone wounded within Western Iraq, to include military servicemembers, Iraqi civilians, coalition forces personnel and enemy prisoners of war. Photo by: Sgt. Nathan K. LaForte

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Spc. Wesley K. Hill, UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief, 507th Medical Company (Air Ambulance)