Top of the School House – A Transitioning Community

1SG Eric W. Pelkey

Over the past 20 years, Air Medical Evacuation Companies commonly referred to as “DUSTOFF,” provided continuity of patient treatment between the various roles of care in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They held the responsibly of executing one of the most sacred military missions. To many, the opportunity to remove our fallen brothers and sisters off the battlefield was a privilege. Soldiers fought with confidence because they knew “DUSTOFF” was ready to act should they fall. The community is fortunate combat operations are becoming less frequent. However, many services members find themselves conflicted regarding the drawdown of Soldiers. Like them or not, the past conflicts were a major resiliency building mechanism across the force. Furthermore, service members gained unparalleled expertise within their given skill set. An opportunity new service members may not get.    This is unfortunate because as experience leaves aircrews begin lacking a full understanding of what makes the MEDEVAC mission so special.  

Experienced crewmembers understand the feelings and emotions associated with a MEDEVAC mission. They understand the rush of adrenaline felt as the pilots say, “one minute out.” How excitement numbs the uncertainty felt when landing to an improvised LZ. They will never feel focus take over as the medic begins the descent to a point of injury while under small arms fire. The relief one feels once all crewmembers are reunited and the patient is onboard. How a second wave of adrenaline rushes through the crew while doing everything in their power to ensure the injured survives the journey. The sense of pride and accomplishment is overwhelmingly warm when a patient has a positive outcome. Inversely, anger, sadness, and remorse fill the crew’s heart each time a patient succumbs to darkness. Crewmembers take time to mourn fallen strangers simply because their sacrifice deserves no less. This author never glorifies war or wishes ill upon anyone but it is sad some will miss the opportunity to experience the emotional highs and lows of the mission.

Emotion makes us better. It drives us to improve our skills and succeed. The School of Army Aviation Medicine, tries to recreate the emotion associated with real world missions. Their instructors recognize the loss of experience throughout the force and aim to limit performance degradation and build resilience. Through hours of rigorous simulation training, students get a taste of the MEDEVAC missions from years past. The instructors often draw from their own experiences to provide students the most realistic worse case scenarios. However, the past is the past and the future is now. SAAM’s training is constantly evolving to better prepare students for large-scale combat and multi-domain operations. Lessons learned are important but instructors also focus on future uncertainties. The schoolhouse strives to field tactically and technically competent crewmembers. Our service members deserve nothing less than the best.  No matter the conflict, SAAM is ready to train future generations to helm the mission.

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