Michael's Dispatches238 Comments
- Published: Monday, 14 September 2009 02:45
14 September 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
With the war increasing, Air Force Pararescue has been crisscrossing the skies picking up casualties.
That’s the Green Zone of Helmand Province, the opium capital of the world. Those fields are the great ATM of our enemies here. The fertilizer used to make those fields green is the same fertilizer used to make countless bombs.
We are flying in a special U.S. Air Force Pavehawk helicopter to fetch a seriously ill British soldier.
In Iraq, many of the casevacs were done by ground forces. In other words, if we hit a bomb or got shot, soldiers would load up the dead and wounded and rush them to the CSH (Combat Support Hospital or “cash”). But in Afghanistan most of the fighting occurs outside the cities and far away from the base hospitals. Rescue helicopters stationed at places like Bagram, Kandahar Airfield and Camp Bastion have been flying thousands of missions.
There are numerous helicopter rescue “services” in Afghanistan. For instance, the British have MERTs (Medical Emergency Response Teams) that fly in a CH-47, and the U.S. Army uses Pavehawks as does the U.S. Air Force. Special operations teams normally cover their own evacuations.
This U.S. Army rescue helicopter parked at Camp Bastion (Helmand) flies with the red cross symbol allowing the enemy to get a better aim at the helicopter. Unfortunately, by displaying the red cross symbol, the helicopters are not allowed to carry miniguns or other large weapons. This seems a rather questionable decision given that the Taliban and other enemies could not give a hoot about law. It is unclear why the Army decided that a red cross provides more protection than miniguns.
These Air Force “Pedro” rescue helicopters have two miniguns each (total of four miniguns), and the PJs all carry M-4 rifles. They do fire those weapons in combat. In July, a helicopter swooped down during a rescue and picked up some wounded soldiers and then was shot down. The second Air Force helicopter had to get the U.S. Army patients off the bird that had been shot down. But there was not enough room in the second bird for the Pedro crew. (No injuries.) So the tiny Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopters flew out—Kiowas only seat two people and both seats were full—and some of the Pedro folks had to clip onto the skids and fly out like James Bond.
The damaged helicopter was left behind. Bullets had hit a fuel line and caused the fuel to leak out, and so the pilot had no trouble landing, but the helicopter was now stuck in the middle of nowhere. So after the Pedros rescued U.S. soldiers who then rescued Pedros, other soldiers flew out to rescue the Pedro helicopter. The plan was to cut off the rotors and have a bigger helicopter use a cable to lift out the Pavehawk and fly it back to base. But when the soldiers started using a saw on the rotors, sparks hit the fuel that had leaked and the Pavehawk burned to the ground. The Army killed the Air Force’s helicopter.
The helicopters take hits. On another mission in Helmand, an RPG shot through the tail but luckily it missed the transmission; if the RPG had hit the transmission, the entire crew likely would have been killed. And so . . . those miniguns come in handy. The gunners are great shots and can return accurate fire within seconds.
Some readers have gotten upset that I call them “Pedro,” thinking the name is secret. The concern is welcome but not warranted in this case. The Pedros don’t care and they even have a Pedro patch.
The Pararescue medics are often called “PJs.” The SEALs, Delta, Rangers and Green Berets all hold the PJs in high regard. Firstly, the PJs are among the best medics in the U.S. military (we have incredible medics—so that’s a significant statement). Secondly, PJs go through just about any combat training available, ranging from HALO to mountaineering to scuba. They’ve got scuba gear here at Camp Bastion and have had to use it to recover soldiers who were killed after the enemy blew their vehicle into some water. In a different war, the Pedros would be tasked to rescue pilots who might be shot down hundreds of miles into enemy territory.
As we fly out to pick up a sick soldier, the door gunners and PJs test-fire the miniguns and M-4s.
When we get low, the PJs sit with their feet hanging out the doors so they can return fire, but up high they relax and take in the scenery. That’s the Helmand River and part of the “Green Zone.”
The Pedro commander, Major Mathew Wenthe, said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had issued a directive that all casualties be evacuated and arrive at the hospital within one hour of the call. Pedros intend to fulfill that directive.
The Pedro crews at Bastion have three helicopters but they only take two on missions. Major Wenthe gave high credit to the mechanics who are constantly changing out parts, up to and including seven engines in the last few months. The birds are ready, and that’s the first step.
There are two Pedro shifts who work 12 hours on, 12 hours off, with no days off during the tour. The first shift starts at 0200 and runs to 1400 and the second shift takes 1400 to 0200.
Inside the TOC (Tactical Operations Center; the HQ), Pedro has a big board where reports from around Helmand Province scroll down. If a British unit gets into a firefight, for instance, Pedro knows about the firefight within probably a minute because the messages are relayed to TOCs that need to know. At least one person is always watching that screen, and so you might hear a pilot say, “The Marines are in contact near such and such.” Or, “The Brits just hit an IED near Sangin.”
The casualties are classified as Category A, Cat B, or Cat C. Cat A basically means the soldier is probably going to die, lose a limb, or lose his eyesight if not quickly treated. Cat B is more like someone who’s gotten shot in the foot. It’s a big deal, but not immediately life-threatening. Cat C might be some kind of non-life-threatening illness or a broken finger.
When the Pedro crews see injuries scroll down, they rush out to the helicopters like Batman and Robin heading to the Batmobile. Really, you’ve got to get out of the way or they will knock you down. Within a few minutes the rotors are spinning but the Pedros actually have not yet been tasked to go. The British-run JHTF (Joint Helicopter Task Force) is watching the same information but they also have other assets that can be sent, such as the U.S. Army or the British MERT (Medical Emergency Response Team) in the CH-47. The Pedros are always the first who are ready to go, but it might make sense for JHTF to send MERT because MERT is a bigger helicopter and so it flies faster than Pavehawks. Plus, the doctor on the MERT can actually pump blood into patients, because when the patient gets shot or blown up, medics on the scene radio the blood types, and the MERT crew can actually fly out with the right blood. Pedros don’t push blood but do start IVs. However . . . the CH-47 is a big helicopter and is easier to shoot down, and so if the landing zone is going to be tight or under fire, it might be better to send Pedro. Yet much of Afghanistan is high and hot and the CH-47 can fly in thinner air than can Pavehawks.
While the JHTF makes a decision, Pedro is waiting with rotors spinning and all they need to hear is “Go Pedro.” Thirty seconds later they are gone. (The British MERT CH-47 flies faster, but it’s slower to start.)
Every day is a “National Geographic” day. Afghanistan is incredible.
As we approach the LZ, the PJs pull on rubber gloves; the helicopter is subject to getting bloody.
This rotation of Pedros had done just under 400 missions in three months. Similar crews in Iraq might do half a dozen missions in the same period.
These PJs have treated hundreds of patients and gone into dangerous areas every day.
Afghan interstate system.
The Afghans call this the Dasht-i-Margo (Desert of Death).
The roads of nowhere.
Lone vehicle in the Desert of Death.
Some compounds are miles from the nearest neighbor, yet they still have walls. Afghanistan is the land of a million Alamos.
When Afghans build a home, they start by building a wall. When the wall is finished, they start on the home.
The pilots swoop in for the patient. There is only one thing that British soldiers love more than mail and that’s Pedro. When I told British soldiers from 2 Rifles that Pedro was going to take me, many British soldiers asked me to say “thank yous” to the Pedros. The Pedros are a great morale booster because we know when we take casualties, Pedro is coming with miniguns and incredible medics. When other helicopters are grounded by bad weather, Pedro goes. When bullets are flying, Pedro comes in with miniguns blazing. They also rescue Danish, Americans, and others, including contractors and Afghan civilians sometimes.
We picked up a British patient from 2 Rifles, one of my favorite infantry units. The British are more sensitive about casualties than Americans (many Americans don’t care about photos if they are wounded, though some do). Although I was not embedded with the Brits and so do not have to follow British rules, I respect the soldiers.
And so, without the patient’s consent (which was hard to get because he was in pain and the helicopter was loud and the PJs were working), these photos will not show his face.
The problem was apparently appendicitis. The PJs went to work and at one point a PJ smacked the bottom of the patient’s right boot. The PJs said that if his appendix is bad, smacking the bottom of his right foot should cause sharp pain in his abdomen. And true enough, when the medic smacked his boot, the soldier winced in pain.
As we are flying back, vitals and other information are being transmitted back to Camp Bastion so that when we land, the right doctors and nurses will be ready.
The medical evacuation system is excellent. Our folks work hand in glove with British and Danish back at the hospital.
During the flight, the PJs also put earplugs in the patient so that his head isn’t rattling from this very loud helicopter. When patients are brought aboard, the PJs slide the doors shut.
This was an easy mission, but at other times there will be multiple amputations and KIAs and so the helicopters can get full.
British fire crews rush to grab patients.
The hospital is about 30 seconds away from the LZ and the PJs usually go inside so that they can do a handoff to the doctors. Then we fly back to the runway about half a mile away, refuel, and get ready for the next call.
The motto of Pararescue: “That Others May Live.” And they mean it.
Don’t mess with the miniguns . . .
The next mission took us to a Special Forces base where an ANA soldier had somehow managed to get shot in both feet. It was lucky for him that he was with Special Forces; the Green Beret medics also are tops. I’ve seen the Green Beret medics at work on countless occasions. It’s bad to get shot, but if you must, it’s best to happen in the presence of Green Berets and to get picked up by Pedros.
Some Green Berets helped load the patient and then went back to whatever it is that Green Berets do out here.
The medic(s) on the scene already have prepped the patient, so the PJs don’t have to bandage him up other than plugging his ears, taking vitals and other tasks.
The pilots flew very hard at times.
On the way back with the ANA soldier who managed to get shot in both feet, another call came so we diverted to get two more patients.
Americans lived down here before the Soviet invasion and built much of the irrigation networks. The poppy has already been harvested this year and other crops are in the fields.
The other Pedro bird flies in to get the two patients.
We fly low and make hard turns. The PJ has to crane his neck back just to see the horizon.
In combat, the Pedro can land and get a patient loaded in about thirty seconds.
The patients are loaded and off we go. One guy had a tooth problem, and the other got bitten by a bat.
The last mission. Just under 400 on this tour, and I had the honor of going along. We’ll never know how many lives the Pedro crews saved this year in Afghanistan, but it was a lot. A book could be written about their tour, but alas, this is likely about all the recognition they will ever get. The two crews that I did missions with were:
Maj Mathew Wenthe
1Lt Josh Roberts
CMSgt Rick Nowaski
TSgt Christopher Gabor
Capt Dave Depiazza
TSgt Tom Pearce
SrA Eric Mathieson
Maj Mitzi Egger
Capt Adam Tucci
MSgt James Patterson
SrA Adrian Jarrin
SSgt Joe Signor
SrA Anthony Daroste
SrA Alejandro Serrano
The crews assembled and asked me to make their photo, but . . .
Just as they were starting to line up for the photo, a call came in and the helicopters flew away.
You are a guest ( Sign Up ? )
or post as a guest
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoI'm proud of these guys. Our thoughts are with you and these brave men and women every day. Stay strong.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoPJs rarely get mentioned.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoWonderful report!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoExcellent photos Michael. Request to use the photos in a new video Ranger Studios is putting together, As you know, full copy right and ownership will be given to you. Also a completed copy of the Video.
Let me know one way or the other.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThank you for posting all of these articles Michael, it puts everything in perspective to see the sacrifice these brave men and women make.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoEvery ISAF country's newspapers or news sites should have a Yon dispatch section, you tell it like it is, great photos and respect for the troops.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMichael:
Another great post.....it really makes a difference when you see just how much these brave servicemen do each day. Thanks for the honest reporting.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMichael,
Thank you for this dispatch, it was beautifully photographed. Let the Pedros know that what they do is so essential for the physicians who are receiving the ill and the injured. Good field work gives the physicians and the patients the valuable time needed for a good outcome.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoWhat is it about the decision making brains in the military? They paint a RED CROSS on the side of a rescue helicopter, then refuse to let it defend its self. Has no one told them that the sign of "the red cross on a white background" is also the symbol for the "Crusaders"? That symbol stirs up as much hate in the middle east as a swastika would in Israel. It makes me wonder if the "talking heads" safely cocooned in a bunker basement room are trying to lose this war! Every politician, Pentagon official and government representative who visits the troops should be REQUIRED TO FLY INTO THE COUNTRY IN A HELICOPTER WITH THE SAME MARKINGS AND LACK OF DEFENSIVE WEAPONS!!!
War is like surgery for some people, it is only critical when it happens to me... otherwise, what ARE they complaining about!?!?!?!
Michael, I'm still on my knees for you,
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoWhen you stop and think about it, these guys are doing stuff that would get normal ground combat guys medals, all in a days work for them.
Back when I was stationed at Homestead AFB, FL, we were watching some PJ's loading gear and such, they probably figured it was hero worship, hell, we just wanted to swipe the scuba gear, they had great toys, we were all sport divers.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoNot to violate opsec, but do the Pedros fly only in the southern areas, or do they fly in the north/northeast? Are these the 160th SOAR?
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThanks again for your amazing work. I really appreciate being privileged enough to following your courageous efforts.
Thanks to all the men and ladies out there fighting for our freedom back home. I'm on my way out this fall boys and girls, I hope to stand by your side some day!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoHi Mike,
your reports are always stunning and I really appreciate them!
Don't talk about your photos... you caught the action and took us in it!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMichael,
Awesome reporting - fantastic photos - have ben following you since Iraq - keep up the great job you are doing to tell the real stories.
Chris the Kiwi
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoYou can tell by looking at them that these are top notch guys. They're also American embassadors in their own right every time they go on a mission that aids allied forces and Afghan civilians since they hurt the bad guys and heal the good guys.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoExcellent though the PJs are, don't forget that Brit MERTs are manned by at least one DR and one Paramedic every time they are deployed. More often than not; if they survive the initial 5 mins after the 'contact' they increase their chances of survival overall. That said, given the current preferred form of attack (multiple IED) chances grow slimmer. Great to see you supporting the guys Michael but keep it in context; MERT almost always lands; and takes the most badly injured.
Thanks though to our USA friends.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoa-m-a-z-i-n
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoFantastic post Mr. Yon! Thanks. I have posted a link at my blog juggernuts.com
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoWhat is the long tube extending out from the front of the pedro's Hellicopter? It doesn't look like a weapon.
This commment is unpublished.· 6 years agoIt's a tube to deflect the high volume of spent brass casings 'away' from the airframe. If not there, the brass will strike the airframe with enough force to damage the strength and integrity of it. Especially considering the high volume of brass coming from those mini guns.
This commment is unpublished.· 6 years agoyou asked ""What is the long tube extending out from the front of the pedro's Hellicopter?""
it's the refueling probe.. HH60's are capable of refueling while flying
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoGreat post.
You mention that the birds with red cross symbols are not allowed to carry miniguns but later you write that when the PJs come, they come with miniguns blazing... do the PJs fly in different or unmarked birdies? Confused...
This commment is unpublished.· 6 years agoThe Pedros are Air Force and the Medevacs with the red cross are Army. Apparently the Army thinks it should follow Geneva Convention requirements and not arm them, since they're on a mission of mercy. The bad guys have no affiliation with any country, they should not be afforded those rights. Furthermore, back centuries ago, the red cross was a symbol of Crusaders which infuriates the Afghans. The Army should do everything in their power to protect the air crews and the casualties they transport. Political correctness has gone too far with this problem.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoI was an Air Force Security Policeman back in the day and our barracks was just across the street from the PJ's. We stood in awe of these great men! They ran everywhere they went, they had a pull up bar at the door to their barracks and had to do pull ups to go inside or outside. Most of the time you would see them running together holding a telephone pole over thier heads calling off a cadence song. PJ's are unsung heroes! Thank you Micheal for shining a well deserved light of recognition on them!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoGreetings to a Courageous Journalist! I am grateful for your reporting. this one was special and the best way to say 'thank you' is by giving monetary support.... so I will do that. God be with you and those you are with in this war. Please let them know that I am praying faithfully for you all.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoDavid, that is a boom for in-flight refueling.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMichael,
Thank you for the dispatch,
I am grateful for your reporting. Also true is we will never see this coverage anywhere else, God bless our Troops.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoI want to thank Michael for all the great reporting you have done over the years! Its nice to know that we get the truth out of your stories. Also my prayers and thanks go out to our whole military for there endless service. I know all of us in Langhorne Pa are proud. Be safe and God Bless!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMany thanks for the dispatch and stunning photos of some of the brave Men in our societies doing what some of us wish we could. God bless and protect you, the Pedro's and the MERTs, and all of the Staff that keep them safe and active.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThe Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/14/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoHOOYAH Pedros!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMichael, thank you so much for your dedication to letting the world know the reality of the war from the fighting mans perspective. Compared to the MSM and "Other" sources your voice is hearing the truth and seeing the light. I have kept track of what you're doing and whenever I mention your name to friends they all know who you are. Your stories about our troops dedication and bravery gives me hope for America. Good work.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThank you, Michael and all the people that we can see in the photos. It takes a different type of bravery that doesn't get enough thanks to help those far away from this country in hopes that conflict won't reach any further. There is a part of me that would love to be there to lend a hand if it is for nothing else but to hold someone's hand.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoYour photo journalism captured it all. With a son in Farah, it eases my mind a bit to know that Perdo help isn't far away if needed. Most of all, I thank the all the casevac units of ISAF for the role they play in keeping our loved ones alive.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoFor that magnificient work you're doing out there for your readers and the cause of truth. I'm still too young to work and don't have a credit card so I can't donate, but I assure You You are in my prayers. Your staff is really wonderful - I've read it for two months, both the current and archives, and so have several of my buddies. You really improved my understanding of modern warfare, not to mention how deep you moved me. I hope You will continue despitre all the obstacles - maybe You could embbed with Polish troops for a while? There's a small FOB called Giro in Ghazni province, when they have our Polish cuisine served daily.
Greetings from Silesia, Poland
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoI wonder if we could persuade the Red Cresent Society if we could paint their symbol on the birds, rather than the cross. Their answer to that would say volumes....
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoEncourage all of these people to run for Congress when they finish their tours. We need men and women like this runnning our country rather than the weak willies we've got now.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoGreat post. I am an ER doc in NYC and I had the honor to spend a little time with Special Ops medics including PJ's doing a rotation in the ER. What a fantastic group of people. Smart, polite(at least in our setting)and a work ethic that for a civilian was hard to believe. Voracious desire for experience and knowledge. They knew they were going to need it. I guess that quite a few of them are out in both theaters. I can't imagine a better group of people to represent America, or for that matter the Earth. Thank you Michael for your posts.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMICHAEL YON:
YOU DO WHAT JOURNALIST ARE SUPPOSED TO DO. YOU DO IT FOR DONATIONS ONLY! GOD BLESS YOU.
RIGHT NOW, The State Controlled Media is reporting almost nothing--so as not to embarass our Incompetent leader
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoIt's important to point out why the Pedros are armed. They are part of the USAF Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) community, tasked with recovery of downed airmen from hostile territory. Hence the miniguns and air refueling probe.
One of the recent decisions made by the SECDEF was to cancel the next CSAR helicopter program. Apparently, he thinks anyone with a helicopter can do their job. As this article points out, the SECDEF is wrong.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMICHAEL: As usual, fantastic photos embedded with an attention grabbing story of another element of the troops doing their jobs outside the wire. Keep up the award-winning calibre work, and watch your backside.
I would love to see you do an opinion piece on how the ISAF forces attract such amazingly capable human beings (and a few canines) to do this dangerous work. When you consider that they are risking their very lives, getting substantially less than civilian pay for comparable work, and have to put up with the increasingly stupid/dangerous ROEs as they go about their jobs . . . how does the military recruit and keep these people? As your photos and stories so clearly show, these folks are some the absolutely best and brightest that we have to offer. They will have my enduring admiration and respect forever.
Off to the "Donate" widget to send in my monthly bribe to keep you willing to do what it is you do. Come on fellow readers . . . Michael's monetary support is crucial . . . so meet me over at the widget !
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoI can be very busy, but when your posts come in, I stop and read them. Everything else in my life pales in importance and seems so ridiculous compared to what these unbelievable people are doing. It makes me so proud of my country. It also brings tears to my eyes. MS
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoPJs were the Best in Nam. saved my tired old ass. Thanks. Jolley Green.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThanks for highlighting the great work these guys do.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoamazing how all work together to help on Soldier or more down. What a gift they have. Thank you for telling their story and more.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agokeep up the great work, posting news like this. rearly will you see and hear news like this story in the mainstream news. now for now, we will be inundated with news on how we should pull out. and they will fan the flames to win there point. WE TOLD YOU SO!. thanks.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoI noticed one of the PJ's was wearing a similar Jolly Green patch of the ParaRescue unit that is stationed @ Patrick AFB, FL. That base was my first assignment in the Air Force with the 2nd Combat Communications Grp. We used to stare in amazement as these guys would run up and down the the beach in summer with full combat packs and combat boots. We thought we where bad ass;-). When I was assigned to the Phillipines, once again there were the PJ's running with full packs on in the brutal heat, this time around the parade field about eight times, which measures out at about two miles.
Anyone thinks they are a bad-ass, join the Air Force and sign up for PJ school. If one manages to get in, one will be surprised at how fast the troops DOR out of training. More so than the SEALS or the RANGERS!!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoMichael,
Thank you for being there to cover and report the stories of these heros back to concerned americans. The way that you weave words and photographs together into a story is second to none. Most of us would not have a clue as to what really goes on over there without the work of excellent journalists such as yourself.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoJust to remind everyone, one of the numerous Air force programs killed in April by SecDef Gates was the CSAR-X, which would have provided replacement helicopters for the worn out HH-60Gs (the ones you see above in Michael's dispatch). The all-knowing, all-wise SecDef is confident that anyone can do that job and feels there is no need for a dedicated organization or specialized aircraft to do these (all weather) lifesaving missions.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoI say that when the Pedros are done with this assignment they hurry home and take over our government. We need their work ethic, commitment to excellence and physical stamina to do what it takes.
Mom to Graham
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoGreat job from all of armed forces men and women! Hooah!
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoHell, I used to think my R1 launches during the cold war on P-3's from Kef (or other places) was something; looks like these guys have it down pat. Keep up the excellent work. Sorry I couldn't have been part of this fine group of aviators but.... timing is everything.
This commment is unpublished.· 9 years agoThank you so much for sharing. It's so profound that I don't know what to say. Thank you seems trite.
I teach high school students and share some with them. I'm sure most of them don't realize the intensity. (Nor do I)
You have our support, love, appreciation, and empathy.
Take good care.