Security officials are on alert in Salt Lake City, where the Winter Olympic Games are under way. The National Guard has joined local police to patrol the streets of the city and skies above it. The National Guard flyers are part-time soldiers who do their work from Blackhawk helicopters.
Captain Daniel Anderson is part of the 126th Medical Air Ambulance Company of the California Army National Guard. He lives in Sacramento, California, but is here in Salt Lake City for the Olympics.
What you have here is a conglomerate of National Guard units from all over the country, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, and they've all come together to do this mission, he said. Some people are doing the maintenance, keeping the aircraft flying. Others are doing the air ambulance, which my company is. Others are doing the lift [troops and equipment] and command and control.
Captain Anderson points out the newest Blackhawk helicopter of his air ambulance unit. These large military aircraft can be used in combat, but the National Guard uses them for fighting forest fires and conducting search and rescue. Here in Salt Lake City, the crafts are also used for security and surveillance.
"Our motto Blackhawk up. We're trying to keep things up," he said. "Everyone's probably real familiar with the [Blackhawk from] movies, and we've got a lot of PR because of that, and all of a sudden everyone knows what a Blackhawk is. But this is a Lima model, and this is actually one of the two newest models off of the production line."
Captain Anderson proudly shows off an "incredible aircraft," as another Blackhawk lifts off from the airfield at the National Guard Armory in Salt Lake City.
This model of Blackhawk can travel at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour with a range of 450 kilometers on a tank of fuel.
It can be configured to carry 13 people, but when used as an air ambulance, carries four crewmembers and as many as six patients. At home in California, it is used for mountain rescues, but now the crew is on call in case of any problems at the Olympics.
The National Guard officer recites the motto of his unit, "So Others May Live." When his crew arrived for duty in Salt Lake City, they were given the opportunity to put the motto into practice.
We were out here in January doing a training mission, and we were out by Snow Basin, he said. We were on the ground talking to the local Sheriffs when we heard a call from on top of the hill of a young boy who was snowboarding, crashed into a rock, and had all the signs and symptoms of a lacerating liver.
The medics offered to help, and they airlifted the injured boy to the University of Utah medical center. There, doctors confirmed he had a lacerated liver.
"The neat thing about that and what the National Guard does, is when we evacuate someone, it's the taxpayer's dollars, because the mother had sent out a call to us as we were transporting this young kid back, and said, can you not take him there? Can you take him to the smaller local hospital because I don't have medical insurance? And that's when the crew came back on the radio and said, just tell her it's compliments of the U.S. Army, and she doesn't have to pay a thing," Capt. Anderson said.
National guardsmen are part-time soldiers, who train on weekends and during the summer. In January, members of this unit were called away from their homes to active duty. Some have jobs in the military related to their civilian occupation, while others do not. Staff Sergeant Al Smoot usually works as a paramedic for the Sacramento fire department.
"I'm a paramedic [with the National Guard], just like my civilian job," he said. "And being a licensed paramedic and having some background, we're working as paramedics at the games."
Staff Sergeant Joel Horn from Redding, California, owns a business that sells jewelry over the Internet. He is crew chief on his Blackhawk, and says he says he enjoys his work with the National Guard, although his unit is busier than most.
"We do fires. We can do that for a couple of months straight, depending how bad the fires are. We do floods. That can go on for a long time also," he said. "And then we do all sorts of search and rescues in the mountains. And earthquakes, almost every time there's a major earthquake, we're called up. And then federalized missions overseas. We've done missions like that."
Members of the 126th Medical Air Ambulance Company are patrolling the skies over Olympic venues, hoping they won't be called upon, but ready if they are, in the case of an emergency or disaster.