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Marine attack helicopters move north to aid air ambulances

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Until recently, if an injured Marine needed medical evacuation from the battlefield in the turbulent northeast of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the air ambulance providing care might not be able to assist until Marine Corps attack helicopters were on scene.

“That’s a long time to wait for a casualty lying in a field,” said Staff Sgt. Sean Redmond, the air traffic control chief at Forward Operating Base Edinburgh.

So, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) moved a detachment of helicopters from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 to Forward Operating Base Edinburgh so that air ambulances and the attack helicopters that support them could be at the same place, at the same time, when they’re needed most.

“I can get medevac helicopters from here to most locations in under 10 minutes,” explained Redmond, who is deployed to Afghanistan with Marine Air Control Squadron 2.

Before aircraft were moved to the forward operating base, medical evacuations would have to wait for support from Camp Bastion. Redmond said the flight from Camp Bastion could sometimes take up to 30 minutes.

From the first day a detachment of AH-1W Cobras and UH-1Y Hueys with HMLA-267 arrived at the forward operating base, Redmond said he noticed an immediate improvement.

“That first day we flew five and a half flight-hours and responded to three medevacs we would not have been able to respond to without HMLA here,” said Redmond.

From three computer monitors in his air traffic control tower, Redmond – who said his fellow Marines call him Popeye – is in constant communication with coalition units in his area of operations. He is personally responsible for coordinating movement of all aircraft in and out of Forward Operating Base Edinburgh.

“Here at FOB Edinburgh we’re not in the middle of the stew, but we’re right on the edge of the pot,” said Redmond, a native of Longmont, Colo. “We’re the biggest little town this side of Camp Leatherneck.”

Medical evacuations are supported by C Company of the 1st Battalion, 171st General Support Aviation Regiment, a combined unit of Minnesota, Arizona and New Mexico National Guard soldiers.

National Guard Capt. Jeremy Degier, the forward support medical platoon leader for C Company, said having the light attack helicopters on scene means injured coalition troops can receive faster care, and insurgents are less likely to attack the air ambulance helicopters.

“They have provided us with outstanding overwatch in rough situations, in high-threat areas, allowing us to get wounded combatants off the battlefield faster,” said Degier. “It’s really a godsend having this dedicated asset, especially for where we are located.”

Redmond said that the mere presence of the detachment is making a definite impact on daily operations within his airspace and to the troops on the ground.

“We’re not catching the small-arms fire at some of these forward operating bases that we normally would, because they are here,” said Redmond. “Now they know not to shoot at our medevacs because there is somebody watching overhead. If [the attack helicopters] never fire a gun while they’re on a medevac mission, they’ve already done their job.”

In addition to attack helicopters, a number of HMLA-267 maintenance Marines are now stationed at the forward operating base.

“Definitely our Marines that live here know what is going on,” said Capt. Sean P. Dillon, a UH-1Y Huey pilot with HMLA-267. “We have all the necessary personnel here. We have the all pilots, the maintainers and operators we need.”

Dillon said that this Marine detachment allows aircraft to be refueled, receive ordnance, and conduct on-the-spot maintenance at the forward operating base, all contributing to a much quicker response time and more flexibility. Enhanced flexibility also means that attack helicopters can provide more hours of close-air support for Marines and their Afghan and coalition partners on patrols in violent areas.

“We’re already out here and can attach to medevac platforms and go with them immediately to the point of injury,” said Dillon. “That’s giving the medics the overhead watch they need, and the grunts the coverage they need, all much faster.”

Article by Cpl. Rashaun X. James, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd)