Monday, October 5, 2009

Who Fights This War? -- Clerks Rescue Soldiers in Black Hawk Crash

These soldiers are clerks in Echo Company. Both of them are good soldiers who took a lot of crap from the mechanics and fuelers in the unit because most of their work is done indoors. Things are different now.
Pfc. Dennis Lucas of Gratz, Pa., and Spc. Nathan Montgomery of Chester, W.Va., both clerks in the motor pool of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion,104th Aviation Regiment, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, helped perform first aid on victims after a Black Hawk helicopter crashed at Joint Base Balad Sept. 19.

Spc. Michael S. Cote, 20, of Denham Springs, La., was killed in the crash and 12 others were injured.

On that night, Montgomery and Lucas were in the containerized housing unit they shared preparing to return to Contingency Operating Base Adder the following morning. According to Montgomery, at roughly 8.p.m. he and Lucas heard a loud boom. Since there had been thunderstorms in the area during the preceding days, they first thought the noise was thunder. “We kept seeing rain and lightning and no thunder,” Lucas said. “So we thought this was the thunder.”

Montgomery went outside to smoke a cigarette and saw a man run up to the fence opposite their CHU and yell for help. He said he was the pilot of a helicopter that just crashed. Montgomery yelled for Lucas. “I was in flip-flops,” Lucas said, “so I put on sneakers and ran.” They ran to the fence, ripped a section of the fence from the ground, crawled under it and followed the pilot to the crash site.

"The Black Hawk was a mess," Montgomery said. Two Soldiers were outside the aircraft and on the ground when they got to the scene of the crash. "There were four of us that ran to the scene. Two other Soldiers who were outside their CHUs followed us over.”

"One of the Soldiers outside the helicopter was complaining of back pain, but he knew he was at Balad and he could move his legs and arms so we moved to the Soldiers in the bird," Montgomery said. "I went to a guy with his face busted up. He was missing teeth and was in a lot of pain, so I stayed with him. It turned out he had a broken jaw, broken teeth, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding in the abdomen and was fading by the time we got him loaded in the ambulance."

"Lucas went to a guy (Michael Cote) who was really bad. Lucas held him in his arms waiting for the medics, but he had a bad head injury,” Montgomery said. "The Soldier died in Lucas' arms. Lucas held him while he died."

After Cote was taken from Lucas, he continued to assist with getting other Soldiers clear of the wreckage. Montgomery stayed with his Soldier.

“He is a sergeant and crew chief of the Black Hawk,” Montgomery said. “He has a wife and two boys. The boys play soccer. I know all about his family. I know their names. The thing I want to know the most is how he is doing. He was fading at the end, starting to lose consciousness. I want to know if he made it.”

According to Montgomery, the EMS crews had to cut through a fence to get to the crash site and all of the patients had to be carried 150 yards to the vehicle. Montgomery was at the front of the litter for three patients. "I never was the lead guy on the litter in training, but I remembered what to do,” he said.

According to Montgomery, other witnesses said the pilot did an amazing job to get the Black Hawk down in the one open field in the entire area.

"There were (shipping containers) and CHUs and fences all around and he got it down in the one open area," he said. "There were surgeons on scene in (physical training) gear. People just ran to the scene. The last guy out was a really big sergeant with a broken leg who had to be cut from the wreckage."

“I felt like I was a passenger in my own body,” said Lucas. “I was calm the whole time. I knew what I was doing and I did what they trained us to do in (Combat Life Saver training). I thought the whole thing took about 20 minutes but it was an hour and a half.”

Lucas believes the training made the difference in how he and Montgomery reacted compared to others at the scene. “Some people ran up to the crash then stopped. Others just watched. I never ran so fast in my life as that hundred yards from the fence to the wreckage and I just went to work. Army, Marines, Air Force people all worked together to help.”

"The CLS training really kicked in," said Montgomery. "We didn't think. We just knew what to do. The pilot yelled for help. We were there so we went. Anybody would have done the same. I tell you what though, these guys are burned into our heads."

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