Photographers' Blog

Medevac! Medevac! Lifeline over Afghanistan

October 4, 2010

I had just reached the camp of the unit I would be embedded with at remote Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.

Members of "Dustoff" medevac team from 101st Airborne Division, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow play cards while waiting for a medical evacuation mission in a tent in a small military base near Kandahar, Afghanistan September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

As soon as I got off the military aircraft that took me there, I saw a helicopter with a red cross sign painted on it. I approached a crew doing a routine check on their aircraft and, after introducing myself, they explained the details of my embed and gave me some instructions. They pointed me to a section in the chopper where they said I should keep my body armor and helmet, which I have to put on when we flew.

Early morning on the second day of my embed with the “Dustoff” medical evacuation team of Task Force Shadow from 101st Airborne Division of the 101st Aviation Brigade, the sound of “Medevac! Medevac!” echoed on the two-way radio issued to me earlier.

A U.S. soldier is evacuated to a helicopter from the "Dustoff" medevac team from 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Shadow, Charlie Co, after a roadside bomb attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

Barely awake, I rushed out of the tent and saw everyone in a hurry. Remembering the briefing I had on the first day with the unit, I realized the urgency of the radio message. The Medevac team was rushing to the Black Hawk helicopter, including a female pilot who dashed from the container van shower room straight to the aircraft with water still dripping from her hair.

I was in a panic, worried that I wouldn’t make it, as I hurriedly put on socks and tied the strings of my boots while recalling instructions from my briefing. In five minutes, or a maximum of seven, we had to be flying. I ran inside the tent to grab my cameras and gear and then sprinted to the chopper. Sure enough, as soon as I was done putting on my flak jacket and helmet, we were up in the air.

An Afghan villager looks on while U.S. and Australian military medics attend to his wife and son aboard a "Dustoff" medevac helicopter of Task Force Shadow after a roadside bomb attack in Kandahar province September 30, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

The patients were picked up either in camps or in areas where the incidents occurred. The paramedics were very quick with their movements despite the cramped space in the helicopter. They were very precise with emergency procedures done on the patients – three of them at that particular time. The patients were offloaded at different ramps, depending on the nature and extent of their injuries. Ambulances were already waiting for them.

A U.S. military medic (L) gestures for a stretcher for a wounded Afghan soldier, to colleagues from a "Dustoff" Task Force Shadow medevac helicopter while rescuing victims of a roadside bomb attack that struck a joint U.S.Afghan military patrol in Kandahar province, Afghanistan September 30, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

My last Medevac assignment in Kandahar AirField had been very busy. On my second day there, I was told by the pilot that I missed three missions overnight, including a very important one – evacuating a dog. I thought that was a joke until I heard about it from another crew member. They indeed evacuated a sniffer dog that had gone crazy from another camp.

To some extent, I witnessed the outcome of violence in one part of Afghanistan from the injuries of both soldiers and civilians that the Medevac team assisted. The Medevac mission is so important and so is time for them. In saving lives, each second counts.

A wounded Afghan boy is evacuated on a "Dustoff" medevac helicopter of Task Force Shadow after a roadside bomb attack in Kandahar province September 30, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

I also felt the grief of soldiers whenever they lose a comrade, such as the sorrow of U.S. troops for their colleagues who became casualties of roadside bombs set up by the Taliban. On another morning, I saw two female pilots huddled together and weeping during a meeting with their team. I learned later that four colleagues from another location died in a helicopter crash the previous night.

Being on a Medevac embed involves a lot of waiting. In my nine days in Ramrod, we had only two missions. The medevac team passed time resting, eating, reading, watching movies, doing physical exercises, and playing cards, RC planes and ball. I overcome my boredom and frustration of not being able to take pictures by just watching what was going on around me and taking snapshots of what was interesting. Not hearing the “Medevac! Medevac!” call on the radio is, after all, something to be thankful for because that means no one is getting injured – or even dying – somewhere out there.

U.S. soldiers injured during a roadside bomb attack hold hands as they are evacuated aboard a helicopter of the "Dustoff" medevac team from 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Shadow, Charlie Co, from a Tactical Control Point in Kandahar province, Afghanistan September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Nice one. Thanks for taking us to the scene with your words and pictures.

Posted by Isabel70 | Report as abusive

Nice on-the-scene story and photos, thanks. A video of another MEDEVAC crew describing what they did in Afghanistan earlier this year to become the first ever non-Germans awarded the German Gold Cross for Valor is here #p/u/13/iV_dhrhip1s

Posted by bhilferty | Report as abusive

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