FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. –
Standing in a desolate field, Spc. Ron Smith of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 175th Maintenance Company based out of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, watched with anticipation as two HH-60M MEDEVAC Blackhawk helicopters came to a landing spot a few-hundred feet away.
Army combat helmet in hand, earplugs firmly entrenched and donning eye protection from the California sun, he turned his head to not catch any of the grass and dust being kicked up by the propeller blades of the halting aircraft.
“Now, this is the kind of training I’m talking about,” said Smith, a native of Linden, California. “If this doesn’t pique your interest and get the old juices flowing, I don’t know what will.”
Smith, along with Soldiers from various other units training in support of the Global Medic exercise here July 13, participated in a MEDEVAC 101 class being taught by members of the Army Reserve’s Charlie Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment headquartered out of Fort Hood, Texas.
After Soldiers were greeted by the landing helicopters, they received a 20- to-30-minute briefing on the capabilities of the aircraft, MEDEVAC mission scenarios and a rundown of steps to call in a 9-line MEDEVAC request.
“We try and start things off casually and make sure they have a general idea of what they can expect out of us and what we expect out of them,” said Sgt. William Watt, flight paramedic with the Charlie Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, and instructor for the day.
From there, Soldiers were briefed on how to properly load and unload a stretcher safely from the aircraft and then completed several dry runs with the aircraft turned off, which is known as cold-load training. This is done to highlight the importance of safety and sticking together to ensure that not only are the patients being transported carefully, but that those working are free of harm as well.
“It’s important that the Soldiers learn here before we actually get things rolling and they are in the heat of the moment,” said Watt, a native of Denver. “The aircraft is loud and in real-world scenarios, things can be a bit chaotic. So we want to make sure when they are assisting in MEDEVAC situations that they are as prepared and safe as possible to not only help us, but to avoid being in harm’s way as well.”
After all the participants have had the chance to load and unload the aircraft in cold-mode training, the pilots then move into hot-load training, which practices the techniques with the aircraft running and active.
“This is a short class, but we want to give them the best of everything in terms of training that we can while they are here,” said Watt. “This part of the exercise gives them a little more of a realistic feeling and gets their adrenaline pumping so they know how to react in real-time.”
Once training is completed and everyone has had the chance to experience a scenario in hot-load mode, the Soldiers fly over the base as a reward for completing the exercise.
While many of the Soldiers were eagerly anticipating the conclusion of the course and the opportunity to fly for a few minutes, many Soldiers were already foreseeing the use of these techniques later in the week when the Global Medic training ramps up to include scenarios in the field.
“We may not be medics and we may not ever come into contact with something like this, but it’s important we know how to react if for some reason we ever need to assist,” said Spc. Zhahid Salinas, a water purification specialist with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 968th Quartermaster Company out of Tustin, California. “With supplying water to various areas throughout the Global Medic training exercise, I have no doubt we could be greeted with such a scenario where we’ll need to act. Now I feel a little better prepared.”
Smith echoed those statements.
“Whether we are training or deployed overseas, knowing how to call in a 9-Line MEDEVAC is right up there in terms of Soldier skills with knowing how to operate your weapon or being physically fit. I think everyone here, regardless of their job or skills, can learn a little something from this,” he said.
Watt said they are providing a crucial service for the Soldiers who are training, and noted that most of the participants had a low likelihood of ever having to be part of a MEDEVAC mission due to their respective military jobs. However, he stressed that it was important to always be prepared for the chance that they may have to act.
“Best-case scenario is that these Soldiers will never be placed in this position and have to act out assisting in loading a patient or calling in a 9-Line,” said Watt. “But on the off chance they are somewhere and needed, we don’t want the first time they are ever seeing a live, running helicopter to be then.
“They say that every student takes in about 10 percent of what they are taught and that is what sticks with them,” he continued. “In those regards, if they can leave here with a better understanding of safety and how to do things, everybody wins in terms of being able to execute in a timely and safe matter. I’m glad we can provide them that here during Global Medic.”