AL TAQQADUM, Iraq -- Tutela sub incendia, Latin for care under fire, is the motto they carry on their shoulders and in their hearts every mission as they soar through the skies of Iraq.
The Greyhawks of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 and the Corpsmen of the II Marine Expeditionary Force causality evacuation team serving at Al Taquadum, Iraq, are ready to soar into hostile environment, to transport wounded Iraqi civilians, Coalition and Iraqi forces, prisoners of war and to provide in-flight medical care as they fly to the best equipped hospitals in Iraq.
Since assuming their mission, Aug. 15, the Navy/Marine Corps team has flown more than 450 patients. Their missions have varied from mass casualties evacuations, to pulling an Iraqi citizen out of a burning vehicle on a highway.
“Right at shift change, the alarm went off. The next second we were flying to Fallujah responding to a large explosion,” said Chief Petty Officer Anna Congdon, leading chief petty officer for II MEF casevac and Crane, Minn., native. “As we got close, I could see Marines had set up a perimeter and (there was) large cloud of smoke. The fire was still burning. As soon as we landed, one Marine and 20 very badly burnt Iraqis boarded our (CH-46 Sea Knight). I had to physically force 10 people off the plane, just so we could take off.”
Congdon said she will never forget the clothes burnt into charred skin. Never forget the people everywhere screaming in agonizing pain.
In the short flight from the scene of the bombing to the hospital, she, and follow corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class Elizabeth E. Moss, worked tirelessly as they wrapped up burns, attempting to treat 11 people in six minutes.
“We’re the difference between life and death,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert E. Brown, the II MEF casevac supervisor, and Long Beach, Calif., native. “The corpsmen are doing an outstanding job and have a great support structure here. We even have a chaplain on board. We fly very unique and rewarding missions, and we know we make a difference.”
The corpsmen all graduated from a 25-day casevac course at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Their instructions included helicopter formalization, advanced trauma management and an emergency medical school.
Brown said the preparation enabled them to be mentally and physically ready for the stress of the job.
“We conduct the casevac mission (throughout) the Al Anbar province,” said Brown. “The corpsmen are able to use all of their medical skills when they fly to a point of injury. There, they may be the first to see the patients and they are prepared for that trauma.”
At the point of injury, the Navy/Marine Corps team is evident as the Marine pilots fly the aircraft and the crew chiefs guard the corpsmen behind .50 cal machine guns.
“I have complete confidence in my air crew,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremy Jones, a corpsman with II MEF casevac and Katy, Texas, native. “I know I’ll be protected, and the Marines aren’t afraid to help us. We always have someone behind a gun. But, our goal is to save lives and we are both in it together.”
Lieutenant Col. Robert M. Brassaw, the commanding officer of HMM-161, said the Navy/Marine team works great, and as the Marines have learnt to help the corpsmen during dire circumstances the corpsmen have learnt to assist the crew chiefs helping to get the aircraft in the air.
“We are all Greyhawks,” said Brassaw, a Cape Corral, Fla., native. “The corpsmen have been completely incorporated into everything the squadron does. They aren’t a separate unit, they are all Greyhawks.”
The casevac job may be very demanding, but the Greyhawks, both Marines and corpsmen, stress how they love their job and know they are making a difference saving peoples lives.
“I had an Iraqi call me an angel from the sky,” said Congdon. “You can see they are truly grateful in a lot of our patients’ faces. By providing in-flight medical care, I know we are the difference in the chain of medical care.”
Marines who fly with the II MEF casevac team said they know they are the difference in saving the lives of both U.S. service members and Iraqis.
“We did a casevac for an infant girl,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Timar, a crew chief with HMM-161 and Tetonia, Idaho, native. “Her body was stiffening and we all feared she was going to die.
We got her to the hospital and were able to save her life. I expected to see Soldiers and Marines, but to see an infant child makes you know we are here for everyone, and we are truly conducting both a wartime and humanitarian mission.”