According to Capt. Casey Voss, a majority of the approximately 30 deployed Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers have been assigned to Company C of the 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment out of New Mexico. This company, with Guard Soldiers from five states, conducts the medical evacuation flights in Kuwait.
Other Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers have been assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation, which performs maintenance on the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, and Company E of the same battalion. Both Company D and E are based in Colorado.
“It is truly an honor and humbling to hear from the various maintenance test pilots that our Company D Soldiers are the most competent workers they have ever had the pleasure to work with,” Voss said. He described the Soldiers assigned to Company E as “jack of all trades,” as they are responsible for ground transportation movements, ground equipment maintenance and camp lighting. And the Wisconsin Soldiers in the medevac company have filled key positions, he said.
Staff Sgt. Jason Sweet, a flight medic, described the medevac company as diverse.
“The Soldiers have performed very well and have accomplished every mission that they have been given,” Sweet said. “We have answered the call and continue to improve our readiness.”
That improvement comes through training. The company’s three forward support medical platoons rotate between 24-hour on-call medevac duty, training operations and maintenance.
“When we receive an air mission request for training with another ground unit, it’s typically hot and cold load litter training,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 2 Benjamin Howard. “Most ground units are unfamiliar with protocol around an operating aircraft, so it’s important that the medical units get this training in a stress-free environment and don’t do anything dangerous or unexpected around an aircraft when loading or unloading patients during an actual medevac mission.”
Other training includes night flying using night vision devices, hoist operations and medical skills. There has been opportunity to train with Navy and Army maritime assets in the region, which involves deck landing operations, as well as overwater life raft deployment and recovery operations. Currently, medevac mission requests are infrequent — about 15 so far — and most medical flights to date have been patient transfers between medical treatment facilities. Sgt. Robert Gibson said that’s not a bad thing.
“It means people in the area of operations aren’t getting seriously injured,” he said. “A few point-of-injury pick-ups have been made — almost all for heat casualties.”
The summertime heat in Kuwait has directly impacted how the aviation battalion conducts business. Currently the battalion is following a night schedule, but round-the-clock availability means some still perform their duties in the daytime heat exceeding 120 degrees.
“When we have to complete work during the day it is tough to perform at a normal level,” Gibson said. “Especially from the maintenance side, everything slows down a lot once you are trying to accomplish things during the day.”
“Kuwait is by far the hottest place I have ever been,” Sweet added. “Most thermometers here cannot give accurate readings because they do not go past 120 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“It’s hot and constantly windy,” Howard said, “with a lot of sand.”
Voss said morale has been good overall, and Soldiers have resources to maintain contact with their families back home. He said performing their job during a deployment and working with National Guard Soldiers from other states were among the high points of the deployment so far.
“Our leadership is very easy to work with and our company as a whole has meshed very well,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Ryan. “I think having us all from the National Guard has helped our unit cohesion.”
“We were able to effectively come together as a unit and quickly assume the mission here in Kuwait,” he said. “In my opinion, Soldiers here have adjusted and gotten into kind of a groove and figured out where they fit in.”