Timing is everything. As the rotors of an HH-60G Pave Hawk wound down from a recently completed training scenario, a real-world medical response was requested. The launch of a combat search and rescue team was perfectly timed for a Soldier needing medical attention on a secluded outpost.
The crew was conducting a training scenario on Dec. 24 to not only remain vigilant but also to allow a pararescueman to prepare for the leadership demands of an element leader.
"In the 'crawl, walk, run' phases of upgrade, this is the walk portion," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Rios, a 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron pararescueman.
Once on the ground, Tech. Sgt. Anthony Wood, a pararescueman being groomed to become an element leader, was presented with mass chaos where he had to quickly take control of the situation and formulate an egress plan.
"Out here it's important that we continue to train and keep ourselves alert and ready to keep those skill sets fresh so the day that we do need those skills, we still have them and they're sharp," said Capt. Charles Napier, a 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Pave Hawk co-pilot.
Airmen from the 26th and 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons perform CSAR operations that include medical evacuation, casualty evacuation and personnel recovery.
Even though they stand ready for mission orders to "drop," CSAR Airmen continue to train as they fight. These quiet professionals stay mentally and physically ready to respond to any call at any time.
Simply put, "if anyone goes down, of any nationality, we'll go in and get them," Sergeant Rios said.
With a limited roadway infrastructure in place, Afghanistan heavily relies on airlift to not only get personnel and supplies in, but to also get people out. Appropriately enough, when a nine-line medical evacuation request is processed, people are categorized four ways. Alpha and Bravo typically receive immediate aid with Charlie and Delta requiring a more lenient time frame to retrieve personnel requiring medical attention, officials said.
These MEDEVAC requests are the genesis for calling in the CSAR crews. They are commonly referred to as Pedros (the helicopter crew) and Guardian Angels (pararescuemen).
The above scenario allowed the crew to perform in brown-out conditions, common in Afghanistan's environment.
A brown out is when you land in a zone that is not prepared -- no concrete, just dirt -- and dust starts kicking and you lose visibility, the captain explained.
"Brown outs are probably the most dangerous things we do. Since Afghanistan is full of ... fine dust, we deal with them regularly," Captain Napier said. "We do brownout approaches in a controlled environment (because) it prepares us for when ... time is critical and a patient is really counting on us."
It was in this very circumstance that Sergeant Wood found himself in when a call came across the radio for a MEDEVAC. The call quickly changed the simulated, mass-casualty scenario, one level in the upgrade program, into a real-world mission.
This is where the saying, "train as you fight," proved to be the rule and not the exception.
"We had to go into field just outside of the (forward operating base), secure the area, grab the patient, load him up and book it back here. Start to finish, it took 30 minutes," the captain said.
Sergeant Rios said, "Being it was Christmas Eve, we went to go get him right then. He turned out to be to be a routine patient who dislocated his arm."
Not only were they able to help a fellow American in need, they were also able to bring holiday cheer to a secluded FOB.
"It turned out to be one of the best decisions because we were able to drop off a bunch of stockings to the guys (on the FOB)," Sergeant Rios said.
The special pick-up did not go unnoticed by the Soldier either.
"They were really hurrying. You know that anyone (who) is hurt can get to a hospital pretty quick -- definitely (a comfort) for the grunts out there," said Spc. Dakota Watson, assigned to the Dog Company, 2nd Platoon, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.
That sentiment cuts to the very heart of what the CSAR team's mission is: get to the person in need and get them home.
"It's a real honor to be able to go out and be the one who grabs up a guy off the ground ... who is in a bad situation and get him out of (there), provide him medical treatment and ... ultimately get him back to his family," Sergeant Wood said.
Article by Tech. Sgt. Stacia Zachary, Air Forces Central Combat News Team