Afghan MEDEVAC Unit Transports First Patients
Story and Photos by Maj. Kevin Wright, ANA Pharmaceutical Mentor, ARSIC-South
KANDAHAR– A hot, cloudless morning in southern Afghanistan was the backdrop for the inaugural flight of the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) unit. At 10:45 A.M. on July 14, 2008, two Mi-17 helicopters approached the 205th “Hero” Corps here with injured patients on board. As the escort helicopter circled overhead, the “dustoff” bird touched down on the desert helipad, engulfing the waiting Afghan medics and American medical Embedded Training Team (mETT) members in a blinding dust storm that nearly knocked several of them down.
The ground team approached the nose of the large, camouflaged aircraft while the flight medic prepared the first patient to disembark. Lt. Col. Ed Fieg, mETT Physician Mentor, led three ANA medics to swiftly off-load the first patient, a 10-year old local national with a debilitating infection. They quickly moved her to a waiting ambulance while Col. (Dr.) Abdul Basir, Kandahar Regional Military Hospital Commander, intently watched the historic event. As the ANA flight medic provided the medical status of the two patients to Fieg, the ground team returned to the waiting bird and completed the engines-running off-load of the second patient. The second patient, an Afghan National Security Forces officer, sustained injuries in combat. While Tech. Sgt. Tony Garcia, mETT Emergency Medical Technician Mentor, supervised loading of the patients into the ambulance for the short ride to the hospital, the Mi-17 rose from the desert, joined its escort and departed the area. Though the departure was unceremonious it marked another major milestone for the ANA.
On the same helipad a similar event occurred on April 7th as the Kandahar Regional Military Hospital received its first direct MEDEVAC flight. That transport was completed aboard an American UH-60A Blackhawk. MEDEVAC transports have subsequently been repeated in 30 additional missions involving 43 patients. Over the ensuing months, Afghan flight medics received training from their American counterparts of the 101st Eagle Assault, honing their skills while being mentored by American flight medics aboard the Blackhawks. Similarly, field medics received ongoing training from the mETT.
“They’ve come along way since that first MEDEVAC flight,” Garcia said as he watched his protégés work.
The Mi-17 is a Russian-designed helicopter built by Mil Moscow Helicopter. With a crew of three, a range of nearly 600 miles and capacity of 32 passengers or 8,800 pounds, it is a valuable addition for the ANA.