Each mission begins the same way. The cry of “Medevac! Medevac! Medevac!” crackles from a hand-held radio and the team is off, sprinting towards the waiting Black Hawk helicopter.
The medevac crew from Company C, Sixth Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade works from Camp Dwyer where they respond to missions along the Helmand River in the southern portion of the province. The pace for the crews can be harried as they crisscross the region picking up soldiers wounded by bomb blasts and gunfire, as well as the more mundane injuries like a marine who had thrown out his back, or an Afghan civilian caught in a motorcycle accident.
Helmand is about as dangerous as it gets. More coalition lives have been lost here than in any other province, according to a tally from icasualties.org. The US-based monitor, which aggregates information from news reports and military press releases, says total coalition deaths since the CIA and US special forces entered Afghanistan in 2001 have now exceeded 2,263.
Under NATO guidelines the medevac teams must get all seriously wounded troops to a trauma center within the “golden hour.” That gives the crews just 60 minutes after the call for help to get to their aircraft, arrive at the scene, and transport the injured to a hospital. Despite myriad challenges posed by terrain, Taliban fighters and weather conditions – they succeed most of the time.
“At the end of the day it’s just a rewarding feeling, to know that you affected someone’s life, whether it’s a guy with a toothache or a double amputee,” said CW2 Salem St. James, a medevac pilot from Company C. “Whatever wound you have, we’ll come get you.”
Nichole Sobecki is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul.