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Sgt. Scott McDonald performs a pre-flight check in Tikrit, Iraq on Thursday. Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division has been based in Tikrit for about six months.
Sgt. Scott McDonald performs a pre-flight check in Tikrit, Iraq on Thursday. Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division has been based in Tikrit for about six months. (Zeke Minaya / S&S)
Sgt. Scott McDonald performs a pre-flight check in Tikrit, Iraq on Thursday. Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division has been based in Tikrit for about six months.
Sgt. Scott McDonald performs a pre-flight check in Tikrit, Iraq on Thursday. Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division has been based in Tikrit for about six months. (Zeke Minaya / S&S)
McDonald performs more pre-flight checks.
McDonald performs more pre-flight checks. (Zeke Minaya / S&S)

TIKRIT, Iraq — When the call comes, the clock starts ticking.

The air ambulance crews of the 25th Aviation Brigade have 15 to 20 minutes to get airborne. But for the members of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation, fast might not be fast enough.

“Our goal is to be in the air in under 10 minutes,” said Chief Warrant Officer John-Glen Brown, who pilots the Black Hawks.

In the time that it takes most people to get dressed, the Army Black Hawk crews plot a flight, prepare for patients and don their gear.

“It looks like chaos,” said Capt. William Cox of the frenetic prelaunch preparations, “but it’s organized, I promise.”

The rigors of their time at Camp Speicher, about six months, can be measured in numbers: more than 500 missions serving hundreds of patients throughout northern Iraq. But that tells only part of the story of what it takes to do the job, crewmembers said.

Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division is led by Maj. Pete Eberhardt and hails from Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, north of Honolulu. Company C, formerly known as the 68th Medical Company, transported more than 7,000 patients over three decades. Before arriving in Iraq last summer, members served in Afghanistan.

During their time in Iraq, the crews have dealt with calls ranging from a contractor who had swallowed his dentures to the most catastrophic injuries of war.

“The paramedics have seen things in the back (of the helicopters) that no one should have to see,” Brown said. The crews strive to stabilize the condition of their patients and get them to a medical facility where they can receive more extensive care. And get there fast.

“I know that if the medic isn’t talking to me,” Brown said, “I need to fly faster.”

Regardless of where they are stationed, there is no forecasting when a call will come, crewmembers said. But when it’s time to go, the easy-going comaraderie developed in the tight-knit group takes a back seat to speed and efficiency.

“We’ve all learned how to talk really, really fast,” Brown said. “I’m totally different outside of a helicopter. I take my job very seriously. I’m kind of mean in a cockpit.” There are no bruised egos, however, because “you don’t have time to argue,” Brown said.

The crews feel let down when they hear on the radio that their services are no longer needed.

It often means the person has died. Hearing those words is “pretty tough,” said flight medic Sgt. Nicholas Egbert.

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