CAMP BONDSTEEEL, Kosovo – The term medevac conjures the image of injured Soldiers carried by stretcher and loaded onto a Black Hawk helicopter. However, a much different story recently played out for one Kosovo Force aircrew called to Albania’s rugged northern mountain range.
It began as a typical, quiet Saturday morning at Camp Bondsteel for the on-call medevac crew of Detachment 2, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment, Virginia National Guard. That is until a call came in notifying them of a potential medevac request from an unlikely source.
“At about 12 o’clock, I got a call from our battalion commander, and he just kind of gave me a heads up and said, ‘Hey, you know, be prepared, there might be a medevac (request) coming through,’” recalled Capt. Christopher Jackson, operations officer with 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment. “I went ahead and called our medevac, let them know a medevac (request might) come through. That way, they can get their crews pulled up and get them ready.”
The incident occurred earlier that morning, May 28. Two Albanian State Police officers were injured — one critically and unconscious — when their vehicle rolled down a cliff.
Due to the remote location and the specialized equipment needed to extract the officers, Albanian officials sent a request for aid to KFOR, which gave Regional Command East the lifesaving mission.
RC-East passed the mission to the aviation team of Task Force Pegasus, where coordination for the medevac began.
“They were doing some sort of operation, got in a vehicle accident, rolled down the cliff and were injured,” Jackson said. “They needed a hoist and a ventilator.”
The on-call medevac team with 1st Battalion, 169 Aviation Regiment, call sign Samaritan 17, began loading the necessary equipment, developing a plan, and spinning up their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
“You always prepare for what’s going to happen; you play through that in your mind,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brady Lemmon, the team’s pilot in command. “It’s happened before, but this was my first time I’ve ever done that, and to be able to execute it at the level that we did, I’m very proud of that.”
In addition to Lemmon, Samaritan 17 included Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Von Hemert, pilot; Sgt. Christopher Buchanan, crew chief; and medics Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Moore and Sgt. Ashley Camper.
Before departing Camp Bondsteel, the Samaritan 17 crew had a good understanding of what they were flying into, thanks to the information they received from the 9-line request. A 9-line is a military system used to relay information about the location, severity of injuries, specialized equipment needed, and more, so medevac crews are as prepared as possible.
However, the information couldn’t prepare them for everything they encountered on the scene.
“We heard (they were) in a gorge, but we didn’t realize that there was going to be 800-meter cliff bases all around us and have to be in such a tight area,” Von Hemert said. “And that’s kind of the nature of medevac. We train that when we get on scene, we assess everything from winds, terrain, ingress and egress procedures.”
To evacuate the injured patients, the team had to use a hoist system to lower Moore into the gorge to evaluate the patients, connect them to the hoist, and raise them into the helicopter.
The priority, Moore said, was getting “the patient stable to fly, packaged safely and get them (evacuated).”
Due to the distance Samaritan 17 had to fly and the amount of fuel they used circling the area while Moore prepared the patients for evacuation, the crew was unsure if they would need to evacuate the more critical patient first before returning for the second patient after refueling. But they were able to safely evacuate both patients simultaneously and deliver them to an Albanian military hospital.
“With them being able to get a hoist rescue, being able to get critical care in the aircraft, and being able to get right into the hospital’s arms, they had the maximum amount of care they could receive every step of the way, especially for how austere of an environment and the injuries they suffered out there,” Camper said.
Lemmon said the mission was a success because of great teamwork and training.
“This success was (because) we all work together as a team, we all trained with what we were going to do,” he said. “There were things we trained on that we realized weren’t working out right. We all recognized it and adjusted it on the fly. I don’t know if we could work together any better than we did.”