NEWS | July 24, 2007

Apache pilots save critically-wounded Soldier with unorthodox evacuation

By Staff Sgt. Lorin T. Smith 36th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs Office

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq - Two pilots from Company B, 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment (Attack), 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, risked their lives in an unorthodox casualty evacuation to transport a critically-wounded Soldier in an AH-64A helicopter during a firefight in Ramadi, Iraq, June 30.

Chief Warrant Officer-4 Kevin Purtee and Chief Warrant Officer-2 Allen Crist, two Apache helicopter aviators flying their last combat mission, are credited with assuring a Soldier of Company A, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, of prompt medical care by their actions. The Soldier had been shot in the face and the arm, and needed to be evacuated from a raging battle near Donkey Island in Ramadi.

The pilots learned that more than 40 minutes had elapsed since the ground unit had called for the medical evacuation aircraft to transport wounded Soldiers to the hospital at Camp Ar Ramadi. Chief Purtee, from Houston, Texas, was the pilot, which is commonly referred to as the "back-seater." Chief Crist, from Warrensburg, Mo., was the copilot/gunner, or "front-seater." Chief Purtee asked Chief Crist if he felt comfortable giving up his seat for the critically-wounded Soldier for the quick flight back to the camp.

"Absolutely," Chief Crist emphatically answered. Chief Purtee made the decision that to save the Soldier's life, Chief Crist would fly on the wing of the aircraft on the way to the hospital.

Chief Crist and three other infantrymen lifted the wounded Soldier up into the Apache's front seat. Chief Crist strapped him in.

"He was bandaged up, and blood was all over him," Chief Crist recalled.

Chief Crist then went to the left side of the aircraft and ran a tether to the aircraft and hooked it on his air warrior vest. He sat on the small wing of the Apache and placed his feet on a narrow walkway lining the fuselage. He knocked on the window to let Chief Purtee know that he was in position and ready for the flight.

Chief Purtee said that he felt more nervous than Chief Crist did during the flight.

"I had my copilot strapped to the side of the aircraft and a critically-wounded Soldier in the front seat, and we were leaving a very dangerous area," Chief Purtee said. "It wasn't a long flight, but it felt like it took forever."

Chief Crist said flying outside the aircraft was similar to "sitting in the back of a truck going down the highway." The flight to Camp Ar Ramadi lasted just a few minutes. They reached the medical pad, and Chief Crist stayed with the wounded Soldier while medical personnel waited for the ambulance to move him to the hospital.

"I eventually had to get a guy at the pad to talk to him," Chief Crist recounted. "I knew we were going to go back out [to the battle in Ramadi], and I wanted to keep my head right."

Once the wounded Soldier had been safely removed from of the aircraft, the pilots climbed back in and flew back to the battle.

The next day, the crew found out that the Soldier had been moved to the hospital at LSA Anaconda, and they decided to visit him. His jaw had been wired shut, but medical staff gave him a pad to write on.

"Thank you," he wrote. "Sorry for messing up your helicopter."

The pilots learned the Soldier wanted to be a helicopter pilot and was planning to take the aviator test in a couple of weeks.

"We did a little recruiting to get him to join the Texas Army National Guard," Chief Purtee said. They gave him a Company B flight patch and took some photos.

Having a wounded Soldier in the cockpit while the copilot rides on the outside of the aircraft is unorthodox, but Chief Purtee said he would rather do that than watch another Soldier on the ground die.

"We have seen the tragedy of watching Soldiers on the ground waiting for MEDEVAC," Chief Purtee said. "There is no more hopeless feeling than watching the guys who need help not get it, and I'm tired of that, and that's why we made our choice to go in and do what we did."

The two pilots said they didn't see themselves as heroes. They said the real hero in this story was the Soldier who was shot while engaging the enemy.