By Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mills, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Iraq, Jan. 22, 2008 - Medical evacuation crews from Task Force Marne faced down enemy gunfire to deliver five injured soldiers in Iraq to safety Jan. 18. The crews from the 3rd Infantry Division's Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, were called in when a patrol of Stryker vehicles from the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team was attacked.
The Black Hawk helicopters flew to the site, only to find that the easiest place to land -- the road the Stryker vehicles were on -- had not been cleared of possible improvised explosive devices. The medevac crews were unable to contact the ground forces or an Apache team from 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in the area.
After circling the area scouting for a place to land, the crews landed in a field adjacent to the road, Army Capt. Samuel Fricks, operations officer for Company C, said. Fricks, from Morrow, Ga., was a pilot in the second of the two medevac aircraft.
"After landing, my medic, Staff Sgt. (Robert) Congdon, departed the aircraft and linked up with ... Staff Sgt. (Aughe) McQuown," Fricks said.
The two Army medics went to the site of the attack and soon returned to the helicopters with three injured soldiers.
As they returned to the Stryker for the remaining two injured soldiers, Congdon said, they began taking fire.
"I just grabbed the patient and grabbed McQuown and we went into the Stryker," said Congdon, a native of Las Vegas.
Bullets struck the Stryker and around them as they went for the cover of the armored vehicle. Congdon reset the Stryker's radio to the medevac frequency, then took off his flight helmet and put on a Stryker crewmember's helmet so he could talk to the aircrew.
When the call came over the radio that his medics were taking fire, Fricks said, he was not sure what to think. He did not know where the fire was coming from, but he figured that since the helicopters were down below the level of the road in the field, he was not in too much danger.
"The only thing we knew was that Staff Sergeant Congdon was taking fire," Fricks said.
As they waited for the two medics to come back with the remaining patients, a third medic, Sgt. Donald Dedmon, from Foreman, Ark., in training as a flight medic, ran back and forth between the two aircraft to treat the injured soldiers already on board.
Dedmon was midway through his training to be certified to operate as a lone medic on a medevac mission when he found himself suddenly responsible for patients on two different aircraft.
"I was keying on the patients," Dedmon said. "Afterward, it kind of came into perspective."
Fricks had been linked up via radio to the circling Apaches, and he relayed Congdon's directions to bring in 30 mm machine cannon fire to suppress the enemy shooter.
Back at the Stryker, Congdon and McQuown were attempting to get back to the aircraft with their patients.
"We lowered the ramp (of the Stryker) to get out and be able to get to the aircraft, and (the sniper) started shooting," Congdon said.
McQuown, a native of Florida, picked up one patient while Congdon and an infantry soldier helped the other patient, and they broke for it.
"They ran out of litters, and the guy was shooting at us," Congdon said. "The longer we wait on the ground, the worse it is on the patient, so at some point we had to just leave and get the patients to the hospital."
The medics loaded the remaining two patients on the medvac birds. After a quick count of heads to make sure no one was left behind, they departed while the Apaches continued to lay down suppressing fire.
"The five patients we hauled all survived," Fricks said.
He said watching the two medics struggling to bring their patients to safety was almost like something you'd see in a Hollywood production. "I just thought it was awesome," he said.
Company C is part of Multinational Division Center and is based out of Baghdad International Airport, with aircraft at several locations in and around the Iraqi capital.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mills serves in public affairs with the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade.)