War on Terrorism

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Live from Iraq: 135th GSAB remains busy even as Iraq mission winds down

By Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs– August 15, 2011

Greetings from Iraq — yes, we still have Soldiers there, though we are beginning drawdown procedures.

Company C, 2nd Battalion, 135th GSAB — a medical evacuation (medevac) unit out of West Bend, Wis. — has been on active duty since last November and stationed in Northern Iraq since mid-February. We provide round-the-clock medevac coverage to a large part of northern Iraq, tasked with the mission of getting an injured patient to a hospital within the “golden hour” — no later than one hour after the injury.

Medevac is a unique duty, as it combines medical personnel, pilots, weather, intelligence and operational support personnel to achieve an extremely fast response. Our lives are scheduled around this important responsibility.

The upcoming withdrawal of troops from Iraq is very evident for us, as our company just closed down one of the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) where we were stationed.  We relocated those personnel and aircraft affected by the closure across the three remaining FOBs for which we provide medevac coverage. This allows us to have more experience at our sites and the ability to receive more days off the flight schedule.

The flight crew members are on flying duty rotations of up to four days each, with a chance of a day or two off between cycles, depending on your job. When on duty you feel much like the kid that is told they can’t leave the block when you were young. While on duty you are on call 24/7, meaning that you cannot travel very far away from where the helicopters are kept. This is so that we can ensure we always respond to an urgent injury medevac request call in 15 minutes or less.

With the weather getting warmer and the lack of any type of precipitation, it is always hot and dry with fits of blowing dust. The temperatures during the heat of the day are at 110 degrees Fahrenheit — a steady breeze completes the feeling of standing in front of a big blow-dryer. All the heat and dust in this environment really causes havoc with our aircraft. The crew chiefs have been doing an absolutely excellent job keeping our fleet of aircraft running on a daily basis. They are the primary maintainers of the aircraft and are out there early everyday doing all the TLC maintenance to keep our birds in the sky so we can do what we came to do.

The medics have been working closely with the hospital medical staff to maintain their skills and learn new tactics. They are always looking for volunteers to stick with IVs for practice.

The operations personnel have been busy keeping track of all the aviation operations we perform and watching for any incoming medevac requests. They have all done very well working in the fast-paced emergency situation when a call for help comes in. They are where the first step of our ability to help the Soldier on the battlefield begins, and they have been doing very well.

The unsung heroes of our medevac mission are our Delta Company maintainers. These are the Soldiers that fix the avionics and perform the more advanced maintenance above that of what a crew chief would accomplish. With the amount of maintenance our helicopters need, these guys are just as important as the actual crews performing the mission.

We do have a few remote personnel further down south attached to a different battalion. They have been covering the aviation mission by providing on-call refueling support to the many aircraft that come through.

At this point we are coming into our ninth month of the deployment and are starting to shift our focus to getting ready to come back home. Our minds are still very much focused on the mission at hand, but we need to start getting our equipment ready for redeployment to Wisconsin. The fact that all of the bases are closing in the relatively near future just serves to remind us the end of our time here is approaching.

With base closures comes a reduction in the services offered. Most locations have very limited PX facilities and the dining facilities are closing up shop.  Most locations can expect to be weaned off hot freshly prepared food soon. They will be transitioning from typical dining facilities to mobile popup kitchens, and finally meals in a bag (MREs).

One of the services that is still functional, but soon to stop, is mail service. It really doesn’t matter who you are or who sent it to you, getting mail always brightens a Soldier’s day. It is always nice to get a little something that reminds you of home in a package or a few lines in a letter filling you in with what is happening at home. I have been pleasantly surprised on how many organizations send items over the deployed troops to show the support they have for us serving our country over here.

One organization I would like to recognize is called ‘Wisconsin We Care.’ This organization has been so gracious to send all of the Soldiers in the unit numerous packages of random snacks and toiletry items. The Soldiers have really appreciated all that this group has done and I want to say thank you for your support. I will have to say though as a whole I have seen more Girl Scout cookies while being deployed than I can I have ever seen in the past.

Our medevac company is made up of Soldiers from Wisconsin and Nebraska, and the Nebraska Soldiers love their Cornhusker football. As some may know, the Huskers moved into the Big Ten this year and will be playing the Badgers on Oct. 1. Since there really isn’t much to root for in Nebraska they make a big deal about their football. There has been a large amount of trash talk between the two states regarding this upcoming game. Should Nebraska somehow win, the Wisconsin folk will never hear the end of it for the rest of the deployment. The fact that last season the Badgers finished fourth in the overall rankings with Nebraska finishing 17th doesn’t seem to show that they have no chance in beating the Badgers.  I guess we will see — GO BUCKY!

I hope everyone understands a little better what we are currently doing and what the future holds for us. The common strand among all of us is that we are intensely proud to be serving our country and doing our duty, and we cannot wait for our reunion with our families in November — but until properly relieved, we will maintain our watch.  Thanks for your support.

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