US Army, March 15, 2018 - BAGRAM, AFGHANISTAN by John Roberts - The alarm sounded. There was a downed U.S. aircraft near Forward Operating Base Dahlke and U.S. Army Capt. Dawn Herron, a medevac pilot, had to respond. It was the first day the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade took over the medical evacuation mission.
Herron and her team with Marne Dustoff along with another medevac team from Black Sheep Dustoff responded. The pilot of the downed aircraft was dead on arrival, but the Dustoff units did tail to tail transfer to get eight others on board to the hospital at Bagram.
“I’m very proud. I’m proud to be medevac. When I was in flight school about to graduate I remember a medic came up to me and asked are you a 67 Juliet, which is my MOS, aeromedical evacuation officer, and I said yes. He told me I was crazy, but I think we are all a little crazy; you have to be for this mission set,” said Herron.
Herron is part of a storied tradition of the “Dustoff” mission.
It all started in April of 1962. The 57th Medical Detachment arrived in Vietnam. At first they only had five UH-1 “Huey” helicopters. They would later take on the call sign “Dustoff,” a term that would become synonymous with medical evacuation missions.
Vietnam, like Afghanistan, had very limited roads. Transporting the wounded by air was really the only way to get them to the hospital in a timely manner.
In Afghanistan, Dustoff pilots fly UH-60 Black Hawks. They are much faster than the Vietnam-era Hueys, and carry the latest high-tech medical equipment in order to treat patients en route. Dustoff teams try to get the wounded to a hospital within 60 minutes. It is during the “golden hour” chances of survival are best.
“We fly without weapons, we fly with this big red cross, it could be an easy target but we are out here every single one of us in this company wants to save lives, American lives, coalition lives, it doesn’t matter to us,” said Herron.
Dustoff pilots and paramedics not only have to know the basics of their jobs; they have to know how to operate under the pressure of a combat environment where time can mean the difference between life and death. They go through extensive ground and practical hoist training. Using a hoist reduces risk to rescue personnel and adds a higher level of safety with medical evacuations over dangerous or unstable terrain.
“We fly over TAAC-East and North, whether that is Dahlke, Chapman, or Mazar-i-Sharif,” said U.S. Army Capt. Taylor Pearce, a Dustoff medevac pilot.
Dustoff units are able to respond anywhere in Afghanistan within a moment’s notice carrying on a legacy started nearly 60 years ago. Since Vietnam, the units have saved thousands of lives in conflicts across the globe, from Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, to Afghanistan.
They are also prepared to assist during any humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan. Pearce and Herron, along with their commander, Maj. Raymond Hanson, recently attended the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance’s Joint Humanitarian Operations Course.
"Attending the JHOC gave us as aviation planners the knowledge required to know how to support these organizations. If called, we will arrive knowing what to expect and how to get the fastest results,” said Hanson.
Since Task Force Falcon, 3rd CAB took the reins of the mission in Afghanistan in November 2017, they have collectively flown more than 200 medevac missions. They are the only asset that supports the aeromedical evacuation requirement in country. The task force is supplemented by Air Force pararescue teams who, when needed, assist medevac with getting service members and local nationals to safety.
“I would do no other job in the Army, never regretted the track I’ve taken and never regretted this mission. It is good knowing that every time you take off, every time you fly, you are doing good for somebody,” said U.S. Army Capt. Michael Sudweeks, a Dustoff medevac pilot.