News / Asia

In Afghanistan, US Pilots Aim to Save Lives, Win Hearts

Medevac units play a crucial role in Afghanistan, providing emergency care and transportation to injured soldiers, and to Afghan civilians
Medevac units play a crucial role in Afghanistan, providing emergency care and transportation to injured soldiers, and to Afghan civilians

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Sam Beattie

In July, the U.S military recorded its highest monthly death toll in the nine-year Afghanistan war. As the casualty rate steadily climbs, army medical evacuation units play an increasingly vital role in the war - both in saving soldiers lives, and in the battle for Afghan hearts, by helping injured civilians. Sam Beattie reports from southern Afghanistan.

The emergency call has come, and a U.S. Army medevac team is preparing to take off.  This is Charlie Company of the 6th Battalion, 101st Aviation Brigade and the crew has 15 minutes from the time they get the call to get in the air.  Their goal: to get the injured person to medical care within what trauma experts call the golden hour, when the chance of survival is highest.

This time they are picking up an injured Afghan soldier.  He has extensive damage to his legs, from stepping on one of the thousands of land mines that litter the land.

Sergeant Andrew Harding uses his 14 years of experience as a medic to keep the man alive until he can get to a hospital.  Although he is still alive when they arrive, the soldier dies on the operating table.

"It's an awesome feeling when you can scoop them up from the roadside when they are blown up and save their life, keep them alive, until [we] can get to a higher echelon of care, but unfortunately for every 10 saves you make, you lose that one person and that's what you dwell on, the guys you lost," said Sergeant Harding.  

This unit has flown over 100 missions since they arrived here in March.  Medevac units play a crucial role in this war, providing emergency care and transportation to injured soldiers, and to Afghan civilians.

Major Russ Hiedel explains that the military hopes by providing advanced medical care in this remote part of the country, it will help win support from the population.

"The purpose of the mission is to protect the population and build the capacity," said Major Hiedel.  "I believe that providing those services, it shows good faith and intentions and it's just the right thing to do in most cases, is to provide those services."

This 20-year-old Afghan woman has a skull fracture and a broken leg and arm. Her child has facial lacerations.

The medics are unsure how she was hurt, but suspect she was in a car accident, or a vehicle that hit a roadside bomb.  Her grandparents look on anxiously as they are transported to a more advanced hospital.

"More often than not, I've been thanked by a local's family member, a father, a uncle of a child or whoever the familial escort is, they shake your hand, give you a kiss on the cheek, so in that isolated case, they go back to their village and say the Americans did this, the Americans did that and hopefully they will be a little more receptive to helping us out when we need their help trying to catch bad guys," added Sergeant Harding.

The war in Afghanistan is entering its ninth year, and thousands of soldiers and civilians have lost their lives.  With no end in sight, the medevac units stand by for their next call.

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