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Frontline Medevac Teams Are Life-Savers In Afghanistan

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Frontline medevac teams are lifesavers in Afghanistan.

by Louie Palu

Special to The Star

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Related Photos here.

(Recommended. Note, some graphic injury visible in some photos)


KANDAHAR—I am leaping out the door into the swirling Afghan dust. I can't see where we are running. The deafening hum of the helicopter's engines adds to the chaos of the landing zone, which is turned into a thick fog of war stirred by the bird's blades and rotors. The crew chief, Cpl. Matthew Hyde, scans the area with his assault rifle.


He is the guardian angel to the patient and to flight medic Richard Miller. They are part of a medevac team from the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade. Among their responsibilities are Canada's fighting forces. These are the people who provide almost all the emergency evacuations and are responsible for saving many Canadian lives.


Today we are on a mission in Zhari District, a place where hundreds of Canadians have fought and, in many cases, died in this long war. It has been a little more than a year since the Canadian military handed over this still-volatile district, along with much of the rest of Kandahar, to U.S. forces, and the fighting has intensified.


Over the summer and into the cool days of fall, the restive districts that surround Kandahar City remain hot with insurgent activity, even after years of combat. When the war is raging at its fiercest, this is when the medevac is at its busiest.


On one warm summer afternoon they are called to pick up three Afghan boys in the village of Pashmul. The brothers were critically injured by an insurgent's roadside bomb, accidentally detonated by a passing donkey.


One boy lies curled up in the helicopter watching the medic, Sgt. Ian Bugh, desperately work on his brother, as the other lies behind him with his intestines held in by a bandage. Bugh performs medical miracles to save the boy bleeding from multiple holes torn through his little body.


Every day the war seems to escalate to a new high. The next day there is more insanity. Bugh runs through a minefield to get to U.S. paratroopers recovering a comrade whose foot was blown off by a landmine.


By now I have lost track of the missions I have been on — 40, 50, then I stopped counting. I also now know by the direction we fly in if we are heading to pick up Canadians in Panjwaii or Americans everywhere else.


Tragically, however, this unit mostly picks up civilians.


The back of the helicopter is a difficult place to be. There are ghastly wounds that are hard to photograph at times; pain, suffering and death.


When we fly into a landing zone, I can see the helicopter's shadow creep across the ground. Everything is beautiful from the sky; the sweet aroma of the farm fields fills the helicopter as it races to the front. We are almost untouchable until the bird glides and turns gracefully, and then it slows for the coming thud to the ground.


During one flight over the village of Sangsar, the pelting sound of the insurgents' 7.62-millimetre rounds on the helicopter lets us know what they think of us being there.


On one night mission, a massive unidentified explosion blasts past the doors of the helicopter, throwing us through the air, wildly swinging side to side. The crew continues to respond to missions undeterred.


There are times when we put down in beautiful blowing fields of grass and are met by bloodied soldiers on stretchers, some running or even limping to the bird. The engine drowns out any screams from the wounded. There is so much fighting over the summer, it almost seems inconceivable that Canadian troops were ever able to hold off the insurgency over the years.

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  • 11 years later...

The helicopter casts a long shadow that I can see moving over the ground as we approach a landing spot. From above, everything seems beautiful, and the helicopter is filled with the pleasant scent of freshly harvested crops as it speeds toward the front. Until the bird makes its elegant turn and slows for the inevitable impact with the earth, we are nearly impregnable.



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