A medevac in Afghanistan

House Organ, a publication of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has published an article describing a medical evacuation flight in Afghanistan. It’s powerful stuff. Here’s an excerpt.

Thrust from the powerful main rotors contacts the ground forming a dust cloud. Racing down before it can engulf me, staying ahead of the swirling debris is critical and must be done correctly – calm and steady. My crew chief opens the door to look, narrating our progress he calls out; “dust cloud forming”, “reaching the tail now,” – “coming up the fuselage, approaching the cabin doors.” It will be over in seconds. With his voice guiding me in, I am distracted by an overwhelming array of data from the flight computer. I free myself from it; letting my experienced hands and eyes guide the ship in. Rate of descent is too fast, adding power, leveling off, and then down again, rate of descent is slower – better. “Dust cloud, very thick” he says; “converging on the landing gear,” I am still too high, still too fast, I can’t let this happen; we must get down on the first try. Another attempt would mean fouling the landing area, obscuring it under the wake of an enormous dust cloud.

Adjusting nicely, coming down, this may work out. Ground comes up fast underneath. Landing gear extends, reaching out to find stable footing, then, an act of faith born deep within my flying instincts telling me the earth is near. Gunfire erupts again. Our guys reply with a devastating volley. Less than ten feet to go, rate of descent is good, heading and ground track all set, then the tail gear finds the ground , the main gear follows an instant later with a satisfying jolt as the desert dust closes over me as solid as a clenched fist. We are down.

My landing here forces a communion with the terrain, baptizing us in dirt, sand, and sweat. Visibility is zero. Low on the western sky an orange glow lingers, long rays reach out, penetrating the dust, as the remnants of daylight ushers in the nether world of failing light. During those first seconds on the ground, suspended between the action that was, and the action to come, an odd moment of reflection carries me away from this windswept high desert landing zone on the far edge of the world at Shah- har-adin. A strange eternity is lived in these places where men meet their mortality. I think of an encounter with a petite, curvy Lebanese woman I met a long time ago, then wondering if he would approve; my flight instructor appears in the co-pilots seat during this fleeting moment. Would this landing earn a passing grade? Noise and action bring me back; the medic leaps out and runs to them. Gunfire from hidden assailants stitches an angry gash in our ship. Overhead, a dark blue sky calls to me, offering safety. I want to take off, but I must not, so harnessed by duty, I remain tethered here.

Dust settles, raising the curtain on this chaos. With absolute clarity I see the awful meaning of war. The sand is bright red. Discarded crimson stained bandages fly away in the wind and we hold no illusions about what has happened here. Governments and chains of command are pale compared with these events. Philosophical discourse is of no consequence. It is a confusing moment of sadness and urgency.

Afternoon flows into twilight and night will soon arrive hard and fast. I am glad we can leave before the real blackness comes. Running to us in a shuffling gait, they bring him on a litter. An arm hangs low from his side nearly touching the ground. Someone carefully replaces it in an act of kindness, restoring his dignity. A soldier holds a bottle of fluid connected to him by a plastic line, the cargo doors swing open and they lift him carefully aboard.

There’s much more at the link. Highly recommended reading.


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