Landstuhl medevac unit ready to deploy

Members to ferry injured in war zone

By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 3, 2007

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Few sounds are more reassuring to wounded troops and their brethren treating them on the battlefield than the churning blades of a medical evacuation helicopter arriving.

This summer, soldiers with Company C, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment will fill that role, ferry wounded and provide medical care above the sands of Iraq.

The unit based near Landstuhl is excited and motivated about the upcoming deployment, said Maj. Andrew Risio, Company C commander.

“I personally think it’s the best mission in the Army,” he said. “We get to go someplace and take care of guys.”

The unit — formerly known as the 236th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) — is preparing to deploy to Iraq again.

From January to December 2005, members of the unit safely transported nearly 1,000 patients during more than 3,000 hours of accident-free flying. During that deployment, the unit flew missions out of Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the distinction of being the first helicopter medical evacuation company to simultaneously support three areas of responsibility during war, officials said.

Sgt. Micah Payne, now a crew chief, served in Kuwait with the unit on its last deployment.

“There’s a handful of us that are still here,” he said. “It’s going to help in the long run. A lot of the other guys have deployed with other units.”

Commonly referred to as DUSTOFF, helicopter medical evacuation units are the first step in the aerial transport of troops wounded in combat. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Russell Toeller, an instructor pilot with the company, has flown various types of missions — from general support to air assault — in his career.

“For flying missions downrange, I can’t think of a better mission than flying the Black Hawk for medevac,” he said.

With the lives of their comrades on the line, crews aim to lift off as fast as possible once they are called.

“That’s a common conversation after we get off the aircraft — how long did it take us to get off the ground?,” Payne said.

As part of the company’s preparations, medics received training in compassion fatigue. Now called “combat and operational stress reaction,” compassion fatigue is the emotional toll health-care providers can experience after treating wounded troops.

“You have no closure on knowing what happens (to the wounded once they make it to the next level of care),” Risio said. “It’s the same thing they go through at the intensive care unit at Landstuhl. We took their program and ran our medics through it. All our crewmembers did the academic portion of compassion fatigue that they do at the hospital. Our guys really liked it.”

When the unit is called upon in Iraq, they’ll be ready, Toeller said.

“When we get a mission, it’s 100 percent,” he said. “Everything we’re about right then is, ‘We gotta go.’ Really, there’s not a whole lot that will stand in our way. If someone’s hurt, we are going to get them.”

Sgt. Micah Payne, a crew chief and flight instructor with Company C, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, looks over the rotors of a UH-60 helicopter before a mission July 17 at Kirchberg Kaserne near Landstuhl, Germany.

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