AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Whenever service members walk on to the field of battle there is an understanding they could be injured at any moment. The Purple Foxes of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 spend their days here working to increase the chances of survival from injuries sustained on the battlefield.
“Our mission is to provide quick responsive casualty evacuations for anyone who may need it,” said Capt. Ben Davenport, a CH-46E pilot with HMM-364. “We transport anyone who has been injured on the field of battle. Friends or enemies it doesn’t matter. Everyone receives the same quick responsive medical treatment no matter who they are or what they were doing when they received their injuries.”
The Purple Foxes have been operating as the only true casualty evacuation squadron since March 1 and will continue to operate as such until September. The Foxes have just recently started working with a small Army detachment of UH-60 Black Hawks from the 571st Medical Company (Air Ambulance). The soldiers of 571st have taken over responsibility of the evacuation mission at night, while the Foxes get a small break and work as the back up.
Though it sounds like they’re the same mission, there are differences between casualty and medical evacuations. In a casualty evacuation the injured is transferred from the site where the injury occurred (the battlefield in most cases) to a medical aid facility. In a medical evacuation a patient is transferred from one medical treatment facility to another.
“Working with the Army is a big help for us,” Davenport said. “They take some of the burden from our own aircraft [and Marines and corpsmen]. They have some different ways of operating but want the same results we do. We work together for the accomplishment of the mission.”
In addition to their normal crews, the Purple Foxes have been augmented with more than 30 corpsmen. These sailors are skilled in emergency lifesaving techniques and often provide lifesaving care to service members injured in battle.
“We all volunteered for this deployment,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Aaron Newton. “We all went through training that would make us more familiar with the CH-46 and the conditions here.”
The Marines and sailors all understand how important their mission here is. They are a shinning light of hope for casualties when they are in their darkest hour.
“Bottom line, we save lives,” said Newton, a San Diego native. “We give people a second chance. Without us a lot of these guys would never see their families and friends back home ever again, but because of what we do they get that chance to spend more time with their loved ones.”
With more than 150 urgent casualty evacuations lives saved, every corpsman remembers specific service members who they were able to save with their quick thinking and tireless efforts.
One such memory is of a chief warrant officer who had severe facial injuries from an improvised explosive device. He and a lance corporal were in a humvee when the bomb exploded. The chief warrant officer took the brunt of the blast.
“When we got him his condition worsened,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class David Michael, a native of Lake Nebagamon, Wis. “We performed Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation for eight minutes and when we arrived at Taqaddum Surgical the staff there performed CPR for another few minutes.”
After such an ordeal the corpsmen were physically and emotionally drained thinking that despite all of their efforts they still hadn’t saved the Marine’s life.
“We went into the operating room later to pay our respects,” Newton said. “When we arrived, a nurse greeted us at the door with a big smile and told us that he lived because of our efforts.”
The Purple Foxes have experienced a lot of ups and downs while on this highly stressful mission, but they wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
“Even though we have to witness the worst part of war, it is a privilege to be out here,” Newton said. “When we are able save someone’s life, it makes it all worth it.”
When a man is down on the battlefield they know the Purple Foxes won’t be too far behind to transport them to the proper medical treatment facility. The injured can take comfort in knowing the Foxes also bring along experienced corpsmen to treat their injuries. The Purple Foxes of HMM-364 are lifesavers; they carry with them the burden of knowing that not everyone makes it back alive, but their presence here means that many do survive and have another chance to fight another day.