Monday, September 28, 2009

Who Fights This War? -- MEDEVAC Pilot

This story went on line yesterday on Armed Forces News service so if you want to see the pilot's picture, just Google my name under the "News" tab and this story will come up with photos.

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq – Maj. Matt Stevenson sits alone in the ready room next to the medical evacuation hangar at 11 p.m. He is hunched over his personal computer, editing a document for a meeting the next day.

“I’ve got to get some sleep in case we get a 2 a.m. call,” he says, mostly to the air. The rest of his crew is asleep or resting, waiting for the call.

Stevenson is a senior staff officer with 2nd Battalion 104th Aviation Brigade, but two to four days every week he is a MEDEVAC pilot on a 48-hour rotation with Alaska-based Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment. His shift will be over at 9 a.m. the following morning, but he had a long flight in the afternoon and a long day of meetings on either side of the flight.

“I have to stay balanced, I have to stay rested, but I have to complete the mission,” he said.

It’s a challenge he faces both in civilian life and on deployment. Senior Trooper Stevenson has served with the Pennsylvania State Police since 1995, most recently flying Aviation Patrol Unit One in the southeastern area of the Commonwealth. Adding MEDEVAC pilot to his staff duties makes life hectic, but Stevenson lives to fly.

He arranges his life to complete the staff tasks to the best of his ability, making the time necessary to fly MEDEVAC Black Hawks every week. He is serious and professional when discussing staff duties, but is all smiles and broad hand and arm gestures describing a favorite MEDEVAC mission. Even while crawling on top of the Black Hawk underneath the rotors for pre-flight checks before starting the engines, he is clearly enjoying himself whether under, on top or at the controls of a Black Hawk helicopter.

Stevenson said flying MEDEVAC in Iraq has many similarities with flying for his civilian job.

“Flying for the state police is always on an emergency basis,” he said. “The mission can be a lost child, lost hikers or hunters, or a bad guy pursuit. We get the call. We go.”
MEDEVAC is the same. On the first 24 hours of his 48-hour shift, Stevenson and his crew are “second up,” the backup team that goes if a call comes in and “first up” is already on a mission. During the first day, the crew must be ready to take off within a half-hour and can travel a short distance from the ready hangar. On the second day the crew moves to “first up.” The Army standard says they must be prepared to fly within 15 minutes of receiving a MEDEVAC call. In Charlie Company, the standard is eight minutes.

Whether at Ali Air Base or in Pennsylvania’s Twin Valley, the emergency response mission gives Stevenson a sense of accomplishment.

“We make a difference here,” he said. “When a Soldier is down, we do everything we can to get them care and get them home. At home when we find the lost child or get the bad guy, it’s a great feeling.”

“One big difference here is we have to be more vigilant when landing at a point of injury,” Stevenson said. Scanning for mines, Improvised Explosive Devices and the enemy are part of every mission in Iraq.

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