Camp Al Qaim, Iraq -- While conducting combat operations in northwest Iraq, scout snipers from 3rd Battaltion, 6th Marine Regiment found themselves in a firefight with insurgents.
Separated by a small river, the Marines and enemy snipers traded fire until one of the scout snipers was seriously wounded. While firing from the third story of a building in the city of Sadat, the Marine was hit in the head by an enemy sniper round.
Luckily, the sniper was still alive, but he needed immediate medical attention. But, there was a problem. The closest casualty evacuation helicopters were miles away, and were still on the ground. If the Marine’s life was going to be saved, he needed to be evacuated right then.
The only helicopters in the area were an AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Huey, from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369. They were there for close air support, but Huey pilots and air crew pride themselves on flying the most versatile aircraft in the Marine Corps. The “U” in the aircraft’s name stands for utility, and on that day, the Huey would have to live up to its namesake.
After the Marines on the ground radioed for the emergency casualty evacuation, the Huey landed under the watchful eye of the Cobra attack helicopter. The Marine was transported a short distance to meet the helicopter.
“The ground guys did an excellent job of getting the guy where he needed to be,” said Capt. Matthew W. Pinto, a Huey pilot and Willowick, Ohio, native. “There’s no way I could have landed in the area.”
Inside, the crew prepared the small troop transport space for a Marine they doubted could be saved.
“When we got the word that it was a head wound, we thought it was hopeless,” said Gunnery Sgt. Russel A. Reale, a Middlebury, Conn., native, and the senior crew chief aboard the Huey. “But when we saw him, we expected him to make it.”
The wound was bad, but not severe enough to condemn the Marine to death. Still, they needed to get him out of the combat zone and into a hospital.
“Timely and effective communication between the ground guys and us saved this guy’s life,” said 1st Lt. Page Payne of Austin, one of the Huey pilots who evacuated the injured Marine. “Within fifteen minutes of us shooting (at insurgents), we had him, and were ready to go.”
The mood inside the chopper was tense. The crew yelled for a corpsman to hop on the helicopter before it took off for Camp Al Qaim to deliver the Marine to a medical facility.
Unfortunately, the mission wasn’t as simple as flying a Marine to a hospital. The Huey flies without rear doors, creating an intense wind. Normally, that wouldn’t matter, but the severity of the Marine’s wound required extra precaution.
“He was bleeding really bad, so we were trying to protect him from the wind,” explained Reale. To help minimize the wind, the pilots flew at low speeds, while the corpsman debated whether a smoother ride or a quicker arrival was more important to the Marine’s survival. In the end, the corpsman decided time was more important.
“When I saw the back of his head, I agreed,” said Reale. “The doctors were very appreciative because of how quick we got to him.”
Now, the Marine is back in the United States, still recovering, but doing fine, according to his peers.
“That’s all that matters,” said Pinto. “He’s alive.”