DUSTOFF Association History

The Association derives its name, DUSTOFF, from the radio call sign given to the first aeromedical helicopter evacuation unit in Vietnam, the 57th Medical Detachment (Hel Amb), which arrived in-country in 1962. The 57th initially communicated internally on any vacant frequency it could find. In Saigon, the Navy Support Activity, which controlled all call words used in call signs in South Vietnam, allowed the 57th to adopt the callsign “DUSTOFF.” This callsign epitomized the 57th’s medical evacuation missions. Since the countryside was then dry and dusty, helicopter pickups in the fields often blew dust, dirt, blankets, and shelter halves all over the men on the ground. Throughout Vietnam all evacuation helicopters assumed the call sign “DUSTOFF” followed be a numerical designation (the exception being the air ambulances of the 1st Cavalry Division which used the call sign Medevac) and no one ever attempted to change this during the remainder of the conflict. Though other call signs regularly changed, both ground and aviation units refused to refer to these evacuation helicopters by any other callsign. By adopting “DUSTOFF”, in those early stages of the Vietnam war, the legend was born. The call sign “DUSTOFF,” now synonymous with life-saving aeromedical evacuation, has taken on added meaning with the application of the Association’s motto: Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces.

The DUSTOFF Association is an organization for all officers and enlisted Army Medical Department personnel, aviation crewmembers, and others who are, or ever were engaged in or actively supported in any capacity, Army aeromedical evacuation programs in war or peace. It was founded by SSG Thomas L. (Egor) Johnson a former member of the 57th Medical Detachment (Hel Amb), the “original” DUSTOFF unit. Upon his return from Vietnam in the mid-sixties, SSG Johnson dreamed of seeing the officers and enlisted crewmembers who had flown DUSTOFF and Medevac missions throughout Vietnam gather together. They would be able to renew friendships, keep abreast of new developments in the field of aeromedical evacuation, and again experience that special bond of fellowship and camaraderie which develops between those who have shared fears, hardships, and mutual dependency during battle.

He began to develop and give thought to the idea of a reunion/convention in February 1980. He selected Atlanta, Georgia, as the convention site and reserved rooms and banquet space at the Marriott Hotel. He invited General (Retired) William C. Westmoreland,, an avid DUSTOFF supporter, to be the honored guest and featured speaker. Armed only with the convention site and the commitment of a famed combat commander, he began to phone and write former DUSTOFF and Medevac crewmembers proposing the idea of a reunion and encouraging their support and participation.

SSG Johnson’s dream became a reality and a thrill for each of those 200 plus DUSTOFF crewmembers and their spouses and friends, who chose to attend the first reunion. For them it was a special kind of joy experienced only by former comrades who gather to share and to relive the camaraderie they experienced during combat.

The DUSTOFF Association was born on that memorable weekend in February 1980, thanks to the dedicated efforts of SSG Johnson, and it now proudly boasts of a rapidly growing membership numbering near a thousand and includes three Vietnam DUSTOFF Medal of Honor recipients: MG (Retired) Pat H. BradyCW2 (Retired) Louis R. Rocco, and CW4 (Retired) Mike Novosel.. Members represent a broad cross-section of military and civilian personnel consisting of active, retired, and former officer and enlisted aviation crew members, physicians, and nurses, many involved in the Army’s aeromedical evacuation program since its inception. Several charter members were forerunners and developers of this vital humanitarian service, which has now become synonymous with its wartime callsign, “DUSTOFF.”

Annual conventions, since that first one in Atlanta, Georgia, have been held in San Antonio, Texas, home of the Army Medical Department and its Museum.. The Association is fortunate in having had honored guests and principle speakers such dignitaries as MG (Retired) Pat H. Brady, Mr. Ergei Sikorsky (son of Igor Sikorsky-father of the helicopter), Lieutenant General (Retired) Quinn H. Becker, Astronaut Sherwood C. Spring, and Carter Harmon.

Annual reunions continue with the addition of other locations than San Antonio. In 1996, the Association began awarding Crew Member of the Year awards and Rescue of the Year Awards. Those were expanded several years later to make awards to an Aviator of the Year, Crew Chief of the Year, Medic of the Year as well as the Rescue of the Year. Corporate sponsors have made these awards possible. Sikorsky Aircraft has always sponsored the Rescue of the Year award. Breeze Eastern originally sponsored the Crew Member of the Year but now sponsors the Crew Chief of the Year. AirMethods has been sponsoring the Medic of the Year since its inception. The Aviator of the Year Award was originally sponsored by AirBus, it is now sponsored by the Association’s Executive Council.

See also – https://dustoff.org/annual-awards-program-honorees-announced/

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