08 December 2008


"There's many medics and they all do their jobs well. Then there's those who want to be flight medics - who want to practice medicine in an aircraft, and then practice medicine in an aircraft at night... in war. I mean, that takes a special kind of person."
- CW2 Wayne McDonald, Medevac Pilot

"Burning gas to save your ass."
- Motto of 1st platoon, Company C, 6-101st Aviation Regiment

Staff Sgt. Matthew Kinney, a flight medic, treats a wounded U.S. soldier while Staff Sgt. James Frailey, a helicopter crew chief, looks on. An Afghan soldier, in the rear, was wounded. Photo and story: Michael Gisick / S&S.

Michael Gisick of Stars and Stripes files this report after spending most of October with the Jalalabad-based DUSTOFF unit from the 101st Aviation regiment. Make sure to watch the video at the end of the article and let the pilots and medics tell you the story of their year-long deployment in their own words.

Based in Kunar province, which includes the infamous Korengal Valley, these guys flew into Wanat during the July attack there while "insurgents’ fire was still lighting up the mountainside as if there were some huge invasion of flash photographers."

Pilot CW2 Wayne McDonald compared it to something out of Hollywood:

"It was something like I saw as a kid growing up in the Vietnam movies. The guys were getting dragged on ponchos. They’re screaming. Their clothes were blown off them. They’re burned in the face, they’re bleeding, they’re disoriented, and they’re just piling into the aircraft to get out of there."

The medics try to take a clinical approach, which offers a certain detachment. Anyway, they don’t know how many people they’ve saved or how many they haven’t because they don’t know what happens after a patient leaves their aircraft. Leaving it that way is a recommended coping strategy, but some of the medics still wish they knew.

[Flight medic Staff Sgt. Matthew] Kinney got an e-mail once from one of the soldiers he pulled out of Wanat. The soldier told him it was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen, the way they had come for them.

There are no words to describe how I feel about these guys, whom you can meet by watching the video here.

Update: Flight medic SSG Matthew Kinney awarded Silver Star

Kinney's Dustoff unit worked other missions you're familiar with: He and fellow flight medic SGT Adam Connaughton helped take care of CPT Rob Yllescas. They medevaced the casualties out of Wanat. And Connaughton pulled out the guys of 3rd Group after they were ambushed in the Shok valley. You may remember 10 of them were awarded Silver Stars for their actions in that battle. SGT Connaughton received a Bronze Star with Valor and later an Air Medal with Valor.

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