Wyoming Army aviators and medics took to the skies in training to save lives as part of an annual exercise called Golden Coyote, June 15-19.
Wyoming Army National Guard soldiers of G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, travelled to Custer State Park Airport to join a group of military forces that included the South Dakota National Guard and the 38th Canadian Brigade Group. Camped at the edge of the airport, the combined forces provided medevac crews and helicopters for care and transport.
“Our goal is to be off the ground in 10 to 15 minutes,” said Sgt. Brenden Krejci, a crew chief from Cheyenne, remarking about the urgent nature of his job.
While the pilots are busy flying the helicopter, Krejci coordinates activity in the back of the aircraft, from making pre-flight preparations for quick take-off, bringing patients aboard, and helping medics to provide initial treatment.
G Company serves as Wyoming’s military specialized resource for evacuating the injured from remote locations. The unit expects to be in Afghanistan next year. Although, the unit contains many prior deployed soldiers, there are several who have not and they will need the kind of training offered at Golden Coyote.
During the fast-paced days, soldiers set up their camp while flight crews readied the aircraft. The weather radar showed an approaching storm, which prompted soldiers to prepare their personal gear and tents for what seemed to be an imminent downpour. They could only guess looking up at the sky. Tonight? Tomorrow?
Nevertheless, extra stakes held tent corners. Mounds of dirt appeared around drainage troughs. Anything that didn’t react well to rain, such as computers, was carried under shelter, while two sergeants stood at a whiteboard rearranging name plates that decided when crews rested and worked.
The worst of the storm never materialized, which gave the green light for medical missions, and the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters raced out to bring patients back to the camp’s treatment facility. South Dakota’s medics joined the fray the following day, June 16, as the pace increased.
Working side by side, medics from both states also participated in a mass casualty event, a case in which injuries are prioritized or triaged. Under pressure to provide immediate care, the ground medics rushed to take care of 21 patients, some critically hurt, and needing the helicopters to carry them to larger care facilities for more specialized treatment.
Wyoming’s medevac crews simulated being in a combat zone where the name of the game means moving with haste. Soldiers pre-checked radios and map coordinates of treatment centers. At night, the crews practiced using their night-vision goggles with pre-focused settings.
Among multiple duties, crew chiefs act as mechanics. They order the loading and unloading of passengers and supplies. They communicate closely with ground and helicopter medics. That can become a delicate project while operating a hoist, when the helicopter can’t land, for example, in mountainous terrain.
Krejci manages the responsibility with cheerfulness. “I absolutely love to fly,” he said. “We (medevac crews) get to do so much cool stuff—things you would never get to do in the civilian world. There is no better feeling than flying.”
Then comes keeping patients alive. Enter Spc. Ashley Ott, a paramedic with the Wyoming Guard. Paramedics like her also ride in the back of the aircraft. She relies on years of school and advanced skills. What separates her from a ground medic is being in a noisy, moving aircraft, dealing with the effects of altitude, and sometimes working in the dark of night, while wearing her night-vision goggles.
“This job fuels the adrenaline side and lets me do medicine at the same time,” Ott said. “This is what got me interested in the Army.”
Ott admitted the job is not for everyone, but said, “If you are someone who wants to do more in your life, this is for you. Everyone is passionate, everyone works hard. This is a great opportunity for people in the medical field who want to get more experience.”
While she repacked medical supplies on a UH-60, Ott talked about G Company’s upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. “This will be my first deployment. I finally get to use all the training I’ve gotten over the years,” she said.