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22 February 2010
“Johnny Boy” Captain John Holland was walking out to the aircraft just as I arrived at the flight line.
Captain Holland asked, “Are you ready?”
The Marjah offensive—billed as the biggest US/NATO/Afghan assault on the Taliban ever—had begun. With it, the attention of nearly all the reporters covering Afghanistan is focused on Marjah. Yet fighting continues across the country, in provinces with names unfamiliar to most people. Men and women are wounded. Some die. Some are saved by dedicated medical crews, and by the pilots who fly into combat to ferry wounded to some of the best trauma facilities in the world, right here in Afghanistan. This story is about the people who care for our troops, wounded correspondents, and many other people, day in, day out.
The C-130J can be outfitted to perform many sorts of missions, one of which is medical evacuation, which they call “aerovac.” The flight medics say that starting from scratch and not rushing things, they can outfit the aircraft for aerovac in about 45-60 minutes.
This particular C-130J crew had already taken me on a “Special Delivery” mission: a night parachute resupply near the Turkmenistan border.
Pre-flight preparations and checks are exhaustive. SSGT Gabe Campbell took me to the roof of the aircraft to explain a few procedures.
Gabe cautioned that when walking on top, one should make sure to stay within the black lines. The airplane is big, and the flight line is made of concrete. People have fallen off the aircraft (and continue to do so), though today was sunny, dry and not windy. But imagine doing these checks on a dark, freezing, windy night, on the icy fuselage of a giant C-17.
I had never been atop a C-130 and the sun was in full cooperation for good photographs. “People at home will like this,” I said to Gabe.
We crawled back down into the cockpit. Specialists of various sorts were loading all kinds of gear, most of which was so foreign to me that it might as well have been space gear. TSGT Matt Blonde said the gear weighs about 800 pounds and has the capabilities of a hospital intensive care unit.