11/4/2002 — Medevacs: Ready to fly over Afghanistan

A medic jumps out of a UH-60 as part of a demontration for hoist training. The pilots are from the 1042nd Medical Air Ambulance, Oregon National Guard, and conduct the training as often as the environment and hostile conditions permit.
A medic jumps out of a UH-60 as part of a demontration for hoist training. The pilots are from the 1042nd Medical Air Ambulance, Oregon National Guard, and conduct the training as often as the environment and hostile conditions permit. (Photo by Reeba Critser/28th Public Affairs Detachment)
By Sgt. Reeba Critser
28th Public Affairs Detachment

KHOWST, Afghanistan — The Oregon National Guard contributes to the war against terrorism by bringing the Salem-based 1042nd Medical Air Ambulance to Afghanistan.

In August, the 1042nd replaced Forts Bragg, N.C., and Campbell, Ky., units in theatre. Now, all medical evacuation assets in theatre belong to the 1042nd.

"We wait for nine-line or medevac requests," said 1st Lt. West Fairchild, maintenance test pilot from Keizer, Ore.

The unit boasts that its UH-60 helicopters are currently operating in Oregon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Afghanistan. The crews always remain at battle ready.

"We have a 15-minute launch time," said Fairchild, a regional test pilot in his civilian career.

For patients in Bagram and Kandahar, they are taken to the base hospitals. For those wounded in Southeastern Afghanistan, Orgun-e is the destination.

Until a forward surgical team arrives in Southeastern Afghanistan, the forward support medical team from the 1042nd conducts medevac drills for future missions.

"We try to do demonstrations as often as possible," said Chief Warrant Officer Trent Wilms, pilot from Salem. "We are restricted because of the environment and hostile conditions."

When the pilots conduct demonstrations like hoist training in a combat zone, time is of the essence.

"When someone is hanging in the air for 20 minutes, he makes an easy target," said Wilms, a safety management consultant for Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "Hoist training is the last method we use for medevac, and it's only if we can't land."

The 1042nd is no stranger to rescues and medevacs. Those left in the rear rescued a crew after an avalanche hit them at Mount Hood, Ore. Each helicopter has, at minimum, two pilots, one crew chief and one medic.

"I love my job," said Chief Warrant Officer Ken Tinseth, pilot from Portland. "We're helping soldiers that need to be helped. It's a good mission."

He said when they receive notification, the pilots and crew chief begin prechecks on the ship. Then they receive a mission packet, which details the mission and the players. With approval for launch, the crew conducts its final checks on the helicopter before engine start, taking off only with an Apache escort.

"If it is a mission, we're concerned about performing expeditiously and efficiently," Wilms said. "Our job is to be ready at a moment's notice and help someone.

"As a pilot, I don't have to deal with critical stuff like the medic does in the back. I just get them there and back."

Wilms said it's hard to leave loved ones behind, but he's glad to support the war against terrorism by doing what he does best - "flying a $10 million helicopter."