AL ASAD, Iraq -- When service members in the Al Anbar Province receive injuries that require treatment only given at a hospital, they are transported in one of the helicopters of the 571st Medical Company (Air Ambulance).
As soon as the call for a medical evacuation comes in, the soldiers spring into action. While the crew chief and co-pilot prepare the aircraft, the pilot and flight medic scramble for last minute updates on weather, location and information on the casualty.
Within minutes their UH-60A Blackhawk is soaring toward the injured personnel to get them to the proper treatment facility.
The 571st is comprised of more than 130 soldiers in three platoons: headquarters, maintenance and flight platoons. The unit, with elements spread throughout the province, is in the midst of its second year-long deployment in two years.
The unit returned to Fort Carson, Colo., in the spring of 2004 and received word of their return to Al Asad. The 571st Medical Company (AA) returned in January and is scheduled to leave in January 2006.
The soldiers are doing everything in their power to make every mission successful. They have transported more than 800 patients since their arrival.
“Everyday is like Groundhog Day,” said Sgt. Christopher Orange, flight medic. “The only change is the amount of calls while you’re on duty. When we first got here some of the younger guys would get bored if there was nothing going on, but now they are starting to realize that if we are busy that isn’t a good thing for our fellow service members.”
The soldiers work long, hard days pulling 50-hour shifts with only 20 hours to recover before returning to the flight schedule and their daily assignments.
In addition to the stress of long days is that caused by the bond they develop with their patients every time they fly. The few hours they spend with a patient is enough to understand how valuable each life is. Every one is someone’s child or spouse.
“We transport them to the hospitals. We hear occasionally what happens to a few of them, but the majority we never know about,” Orange said. “It kind of leaves us with a void of not knowing if our treatment helped them see their families again or if they ever made it. We don’t have any closure with them. It can add up after a while and really add to the stress of an already demanding job.”
Since arriving in here, every mission has had a gunship escort into the combat zone. An AH-1W Super Cobra escorts the Army’s Blackhawks anytime there is a call.
“It is against the Geneva Convention for us to carry crew served weapons, but knowing the Cobras are by our side really puts our minds at ease so we can concentrate on giving proper medical treatment to our patients, said Sgt. 1st Class Jon Spiller, platoon sergeant and Portland, N.Y., native.
The Marines on the ground also help as they land to pick up the injured.
“The Marines do a really good job at sweeping our landing zones before we get there,” Spiller said. “They are really good at finding the second and third IED before it can become a problem for us.”
With the support of their mechanics and fuels soldiers who usually don’t get much of the glory, the 571st has been working hard everyday to help transport wounded and sick personnel around the Al Anbar Province to ensure they get the medical treatment they require quickly.
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