Friday, January 23, 2004

Medevac Madness: The Evacuation of SSG A_____. 
_From my journal…The Evacuation of SSG A______.

I think it was the first of September.

Here’s how my day went yesterday.

0700: Convoy mission briefing. Routine logistics, troop transport, and mail retrieval mission. I happen to be convoy commander. The trucks and drivers are all on site, and I gather the men around me--about 30 of them, from various companies around the battalion--and issue the briefing to everyone. Who hooks up to tow what vehicles or trailers. Order of march. Radio frequencies. Things to avoid. (Drivers, stay clear of roadside debris, to include animal carcasses. The insurgent has hidden explosives in them.) Actions upon RPG ambush. Actions upon contact. Actions if we encounter someone throwing grenades down from a freeway overpass). I'm never eager to be the very first convoy on the road in the morning, so I tell the NCO's to cut their men 30 minutes to get a hot breakfast. Do a radio check. I will climb in the lead vehicle at 0745 and I expect everyone loaded and ready to roll.

0730: We hear an explosion in town, followed by automatic weapons fire. Distance and precise direction uncertain. My 30 men and the vehicles already lined up are a natural quick reaction force. An infantry officer's first instinct should be to move to the sound of the guns. I give the order to mount up on the vehicles. While the NCOs take charge of their elements and shepherd their men back on the trucks, and do final checks on weapons and communications, I alert an ambulance crew, and move to the battalion headquarters to see if I can find out exactly where it happened, and if the element attacked needs assistance. If so, I also want to find out what direction they want me to approach from, and if I need to set up a blocking position or if I should assault. (Never rush into a fight.)
It takes a while for information to develop and trickle in over the radio net.

0740: I find out that the explosion was a roadside bomb, which wounded two soldiers. No quick reaction force is needed. The unit is evacuating their own wounded to our aid station. I walk over to the aid station and tell the medics what's coming. We use triage shorthand: One litter urgent, one priority ambulatory. That tells them how to set up their ambulance before their arrival, and it tells them how many stretchers they need to clear.

0750: Two vehicles roll into the compound at immoderate speed, one bearing the two wounded. One has lost a lot of blood. It's all over the inside of the vehicle, and all over my medics' uniforms. One of my junior enlisted soldiers is an AP photographer in the real world. He grabs his camera and sprints to document it. I hear a lot of soldiers referring to him as a 'vulture.' Me, I'm glad he's recording it. I'd do the same thing. In fact, I'm doing the same thing as I write this. You can take the boy out of the journalism world, but you can't take the journalism out of the boy. (I did find out later he got permission from both guys, a priori, to photograph them if they were ever wounded. I make a mental note not to so jinx myself.)

0800: It's clear now that both patients will require air medevac. One had an eye injury, the other had multiple wounds--including a fragment that appeared to penetrate his skull. I'm now planning to use my already staged convoy to provide security for the ambulance on the short trip to the Regimental HQ's landing zone. I relay the medevac request to battalion HQ, who then calls the Regiment, which alerts two Blackhawk crews.

0805: I return to the aid station to monitor progress. The wounded's uniforms have been cut away. I'm relieved to see that both of them still have some color, and are both lucid. Even the one with the head wound is coherent, although in a good deal of pain. The bleeding is already under control (thanks to a medic named SPC Marc Iannuzzi, a 22 year old 'Johnny-on-the-spot', who was the first medic on the scene.)

0810: The NCOIC of my convoy, MSG H. is worried about our late departure. He's supposed to pick up 5 grand worth of merchandise for our field PX and estimates he'll need hours to load it up and is worried about running out of time to complete it. He wants to roll to Al Asad without the ambulance, and leave it to other elements to put together the escort. I believe that will take too much time.
"Goddammit," I said, "This battalion is in a fight and we've taken wounded, and your PX mission is the last thing I'm worried about right now."

0815: The ambulance is running. The medics load the wounded into the back of the ambulance. My photographer is shooting like mad. I put my arm around the ambulance driver, a Guardsman from Arkansas attached to us, and tell him to fall in behind my vehicle and we'll roll out the LZ. (I've found that being very physical is a good way to get a guy's attention and reassure and focus them in a crisis. So I'll grab LBE's, arms, wrap my arms around them, anything to communicate. Never holler when you don't have to. People get stressed enough without leaders needlessly adding to it. If leaders yell a lot, it gets magnified layer after layer down the chain of command. I want quiet, well-drilled, professionals.)

0817 (or thereabouts) I'm at my lead vehicle. The ambulance pulls right alongside. "Where do you want me?"
"Follow me."
Off we go. We pull out of the compound, drive north 500 meters to the Regimental headquarters, our convoy in tow. Again at an immoderate speed. The Iraqi rush hour commuters oblige by getting out of our way. The .50 calibre machine gun I have on top of my vehicle helps.
Families should be happy to hear that comms were good. Regiment was expecting us. They waived us right through the gate, and we had an MP escort-slash-NASCAR pace car escort us all the way to the Landing zone. The Regimental Surgeon was already there, along with three back-up medics. The engines on the helicopters were already running. It was textbook. Outstanding execution on behalf of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

We offload our wounded and they get prepped for air movement. My photographer's snapping pictures like a man possessed and begs me to let him stay until the birds leave.

We're not going anywhere until the birds are off, I tell him. The Bn Operations officer wanted us to be sure to wait until the birds lift off. Anything can happen with helicopters, and if there were a maintenance problem, we wanted to be able to ground evac them ourselves, even though it's an hour and a half trip to the Support Battalion medical detachment.

0840: The birds lift off. Mission accomplished. Prognosis on the more seriously wounded of the two still uncertain, last I heard. He's already in Germany.

I round up the rest of my convoy, and head back to drop off the FLA and carry on with my original logistics mission.

That one bomb was one of four that we found in Ramadi that day. Two exploded. Two we found because of tips from local residents.

We did capture someone that morning with thousands and thousands of dollars worth of Iranian and U.S. currency--fresh, crisp bills, and several books on how to make improvised explosive devices. The Iranian currency tells us a lot. We fly him out the next day. A lot of people want to talk to him.

As for us, it turned out we had plenty of time to load up the PX merchandise and get it back here.

Splash, Out


UPDATE: SSG A____ survived his wounds, as did the other soldier evacuated with him. At last report, he was recuperating in the military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany. There will be some disability, unfortunately--the extent of which I'm not sure of.

George W. Bush pinned his purple heart on his pillow personally. We have the photograph.

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