Rescue of the Year

THE RESCUE OF the Year Award this year will be shared jointly by the 236th Medical Company and the 50th Medical Company. Both high-risk missions missions performed with skill and courage. Several other nominations were also considered. Though not chosen, they also represent the courage, skill and willingness to go into harmís way to rescue and evacuate their fellow comrades in arms or injured or sick civilians.

The crewmembers of the 236th Medical Company (AA) Rescue of the Year crew were pilot-in-command, CW3 William Fisher; co-pilot, CW2 Daniel Adams/1LT Christopher Howard; medic, SGT Luis Rodriguez Jr.; and crew chief, SPC Andrew Beckler.

On the night of 13 April (Good Friday) 2001, the crew of DUSTOFF 01, from the 236th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), was deployed to provide aeromedical evacuation support to NATO forces at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.

Shortly after 2100 hours, DUSTOFF operations received a nine-line MEDEVAC request to rescue the crew of a British Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) that had been destroyed by an anti-tank mine while patrolling near the Macedonian border. The DUSTOFF crew, led by CW3 William Fisher, launched in under eight minutes, under NVG conditions and in a snow shower. The initial evacuation request indicated that there was a single casualty on the scene and that personnel on the ground had cleared the Landing Zone of ordinance.

Enroute to the site, CW3 Fisher took the aircraft controls while his co-pilot, CW2 Dan Adams, navigated and communicated with the British soldiers at the blast site. After circling the scene, the crew landed the aircraft approximately fifteen meters from the wrecked APC, which had been flipped into the air and onto its side by the enormous force of the explosion. Even before the crewmembers could exit the aircraft, the stench of fuel from the ruined vehicle became nearly overwhelming, and the extent of the damage to the vehicle was easily apparent. SGT Luis Rodriguez, the flight medic on board, disconnected from the intercom system, climbed out of the left gunnerís window and began moving toward a soldier who was signaling him with a flashlight.

The British soldier informed SGT Rodriguez that there were actually two casualties, one ambulatory and one badly injured litter patient. While they discussed the situation, other British troops led the first patient to SGT Rodriguez. The victim had not been severely injured by the blast, but was suffering from acute post-traumatic stress. The soldier had been the APC track commander at the time of the explosion and had been thrown out of the vehicle by the blast. SGT Rodriguez led him to the waiting MEDEVAC aircraft, where the crew chief, SPC Andrew Beckler, helped him into the aft-facing seat between the crewmember stations. Knowing that the patientís seat faced directly toward the litter pan where the more severely injured victim would be situated, SGT Rodriguez instructed the soldier to close his eyes and keep his head down, so he would not see the injuries his friend had suffered.

SGT Rodriguez then moved back to the soldiers on the ground to move the litter patient. As he moved toward the place where the victim had come to rest after being ejected from the APC, he saw a British soldier moving on his hands and knees from the opposite direction, probing the ground for mines. SGT Rodriguez was then informed by one of the British troops that the area had not been cleared of mines. He immediately stopped in his tracks and, because he was disconnected from ICS, yelled for SPC Beckler to freeze, so loudly that the pilots heard him clearly over the engine noise. From where he stood, SGT Rodriguez coordinated for the mine victim to be moved. He then led the litter bearers toward the aircraft, carefully ensuring that they followed in his own footsteps to avoid detonating any undiscovered mines.

With the patient safely on board, SGT Rodriguez quickly assessed the patientís injuries. The soldier had suffered a near-amputation of his left leg, multiple severe blast injuries and a massive open abdominal wound. SGT Rodriguez and SPC Beckler then performed two-rescuer CPR for the duration of the flight, while the CW3 Fisher and CW2 Adams brought the aircraft back through the increasingly dense snow shower to the Combat Support Hospital at Camp Bondsteel. After delivering the patients and refueling, the crew returned to MEDEVAC parking, where they were debriefed by the Task Force chaplain, due to severity of the victimís injuries and the stress they had experienced during the mission.

Approximately 90 minutes after they had returned from the first mission, DUSTOFF 01ís crew was launched again to the site of the APC explosion. A third British soldier had been wounded in the initial explosion; however, due to the rush of activity following the blast, his injuries were not immediately discovered. The same MEDEVAC crew launched again, this time with 1LT Christopher Howard serving as co-pilot. Inbound to the LZ, 1LT Howard confirmed the grid coordinates with British ground personnel, as the crewmembers helped clear the aircraft through the still-deteriorating weather. To ensure mine avoidance, CW3 Fisher used his skill and precise guidance from the crew to land the aircraft in exactly the same wheel marks they had created on the first mission. Once again, SGT Rodriguez took control of the scene and directed the approach of the British ground troops as they carried the third patient of the night. This soldier had been following the APC when the mine detonated and had received shrapnel wounds to the lower leg. When the victim had been loaded into the aircraft, the crew of DUSTOFF 01 delivered him safely to the CSH and returned safely once again to parking for the remainder of the night.

Each of the crewmembers involved in these missions acted in the true spirit of DUSTOFF. They placed the welfare of their comrades ahead of their own, even performing multiple flights to a known hostile LZ to evacuate wounded personnel. Their individual skill and exemplary crew coordination ensured that the mission was accomplished and each of the patients was delivered to medical care.