Michael's Dispatches


Flight Medics prepare the aircraft to receive patients.

Around Afghanistan
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?”

“Yes Sir.”

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.

Pre-flight preparations before loading wounded troops.

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.

Inside the cockpit is a hatch to the roof of the C-130J

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.

Stay between the black lines and don't step on anything that says 'no step.'

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.

The runway at Kandahar Airfield was busy.

Gabe Campbell shows important hidden chambers.

The 14mm lens stretches the wing.

Gabe explains the de-icing mechanism on the tailfin, which the lens distorts to look like a shark fin.  ('Fish-eye' effect.)

Gabe smacked the rear section, saying that birds often nest in this area and when you smack it they fly out.  He said nesting birds aren’t a big problem in Afghanistan, but can be in some places.

Back to the front.  The sun has moved and is no longer perfect.

That little membrane tears off and reveals a handle for the life raft, which pops out of the wing just behind Gabe's left arm.

Pilot Captain John Holland pops out from the cockpit.  Maybe he was wondering why we were playing on the roof.

Around back, more preparations were underway.

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.

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