Guest Authors

Pedro Inspired the Vikings


Note: I asked Danish journalist Camilla Fuhr Nilsson to write a couple of stories about the Air Force Pedros.  After publication of her first installment, she emailed from Afghanistan, surprised to have gotten “thank you” notes from readers.  As a journalist, Camilla had never gotten “thank yous” before.  In the about five years I have covered the wars, it is safe to say that British and American service members, their families and others, have thanked me 100% of the time, for each of hundreds of dispatches.  That would be tens of thousands of thank yous…maybe more.  If not for those thank yous, I would have quit after just a few months in combat.  The power of a sincere “thank you” can never be measured.  And now Camilla’s second story:

By Camilla Fuhr Nilsson
Published: 30 September 2009

“These things we do that others may live” is the current motto of the US Air Force combat search and rescue team, or Pedro as they are called when deployed to Afghanistan. They fly into the battlefield with their smooth Pave Hawk helicopters and evacuate the wounded infantry soldiers and Marines. On a recent evacuation of two Danish soldiers in the middle of a battle with the Taliban, the Viking ancestors made a memorable difference to the 129th American Air Force Pedros crew.

It was a hot day in June even though it was still early in the morning. The traditionally dry heat of the southern Afghan desert, combined with the humidity of the green vegetation known as the Green Zone around the Helmand River, made the Danish infantry soldiers from the Danish Royal Husars drip with sweat as they patrolled in the green fields with heavy equipment and body amour. The squad, also known as Charlie Coy, soon got engaged in a heavy battle with Taliban fighters. Two Danish soldiers were shot by the Taliban and the medic called for evacuation—the so-called medevac. The American Pedro team 129th responded to the call.

Callsign Norsemen

Major Mat Wenthe, the detachment commander of the team, recalls the 25th of June rescue:

“The weather was fine that morning, so we only had to worry about the battle when we landed. The Danes were on the ground when we arrived. The B1 bomber was on station in the air already and the Norseman call sign on the ground and in the forward operating base nearby. There were two different call signs. One was talking about the TIC—troops in contact—and another was talking to us. On one side there was a TIC and the soldiers were receiving fire. So we knew what we had to deal with.”

The ongoing battle between the Danes and the Taliban meant that the Major and his team had to land in what they call the hot LZ. That means the landing zone is still a battle zone and there is a huge risk they’ll be caught up in the middle of bullets and mortar bombs flying through the air. Approximately twenty percent of the rescues are in a hot landing zone and the rest of the missions are fairly routine.

“There was enemy contact still going on. When we arrive to a pick up zone, we usually ask where the enemy is and what and where the casualties are. That way we’ll have an up-to-date assessment of the situation. And we knew we would be landing in a TIC,” Major Wenthe explains.

Alpha Bravo Charlie rescues

The three different categories of casualty assessment are Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. The call from the Danish medics was an alpha which means the wounded are in a critical condition and require urgent rescue. So even though the Danish soldiers were in the Charlie Coy squad, their casualties were Alpha.

Because of the situation on the ground, the Pedro 36 crew on one of the helicopters asked for smoke from the soldiers on the ground.

“The Norsemen secured the LZ. We were able to move in and pick them up. There were two casualties—one soldier was hit in the shoulder and one in the leg. The guy with the gunshot in the leg walked to the helicopter by himself which we thought was pretty amazing actually. We were all pretty impressed,” Mat Wenthe laughs, recalling the situation.

The other crew members from that flight nods--recognizing the event. They remember the Danish Viking, who made his way to the helicopter by himself.

“Dude that was wild”, says Tommy, a PJ—a pararescue jumper.

“Seriously I don’t know why the Danes are better at it than the other countries, but they are better in the way they call in the rescue, the way they speak out there, calm and everything.” He shakes his head, almost in disbelief.

The crew wanted to limit time on the ground and was off in 30 seconds.

“We try to get out fast to be safe. The PJs jump out and grab the patients, and we are on our way,” Mat says.  “As we were leaving the area, the Danish Platoon Commander—I think he was—on the ground said to us: ‘Thank you Pedro, take good care of my men.’ They didn’t think we were gonna get them because it was a hot landing zone.”

Worst case scenario training

The Pedro crew is originally trained to pick up US Air Force pilots who are being shot down. They train for worst case scenario and how to evacuate a landing zone in the middle of firefights.

“It’s definitely a morale boost to the people on the ground, that we’ll land in any kind of situation and any weather. We are the only air force that guarantees we’ll try. So on the ground, that makes the pilots know that we’ll be there, and we apply that to the medevacs we do here. The troops on the ground know we’ll help them engage from the chopper if needed,” Mat Wenthe says.

On the 25th of June the team took the two soldiers to the hospital in Camp Bastion—the large base in the middle of the desert. The day after the rescue, the Pedros received a letter from the Danish platoon.

“The letter came thanking us for what we did. Normally it’s about the injured when we receive a thank you, but this letter proved that we can make a difference on the ground too. It made an impact on us, that he wrote that we had made a difference after we left the battlefield, because that’s not our primary goal.”

The letter stated that the Pedro crew had bravely inspired the men, because they landed under difficult circumstances in the middle of a firefight between the Danes and the Taliban. A bravery that made the Danish soldiers motivated and strong enough to win the fight.

“It was awesome to see that what we do inspired other people on the ground. And the fact that it was the Danes, you know the Vikings, huge, tall, and blonde, that’s pretty bad ass. We’ve been hearing what they do out there, and to receive that letter from the Vikings was good,” says Mat Wenthe, and looks like he met the original Vikings on the 25th.

Viking reputation still stands

The American crew still recalls all the events surrounding the rescue because the soldiers were Danish, and because they had heard the reputation the Danish men had on the battlefield, both historically and in Helmand.

“They are pretty laid-back when they are out there. So we always picture them as huge and blonde and badass wearing helmets with horns,” Major Wenthe says with a smile.

Some of the contents of the thank-you letter the American crew received has now been translated into Latin. They plan to make a badge with the inscription “Fortis incito”—“to inspire bravery”—when they return to the States. But from this tour they’ll always remember the Norsemen they rescued on June 25th.

The present Pedro team—129th—arrived to Camp Bastion on June 5th and has since had 400 rescue missions and helped save 215 allied soldiers’ lives. Their task is to evacuate soldiers to the field hospitals in the south of Afghanistan in under an hour in all kinds of weather.

The two wounded Danish soldiers are both doing well. The soldier that was shot in the leg was quickly back on the job. The other soldier—the one with a severe gunshot in the left upper arm—has lost a piece of the triceps muscle, hence his strength is not as strong as before the injury.

Both the Danish Norsemen team seven and the American 129th Pedro crew have now redeployed to their respective countries. The callsigns has been changed to avoid endangering the lives of the Danish soldiers.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wayne Hutton · 12 years ago
    Camilla, Here's another Thank You for your list, and one of your many thousands of Thank Yous for you Michael. I served in the US Air Force in the OSI during the first Gulf War. I've been a cop for over twenty years now. Many people forget the inspiration they are for people even after they are gone. It's because they do the right thing, when it needs to be done - no thought, just do. Thanks for reminding us all that each of us can inspire, like you and Michael do, just by doing the right thing, when it needs to be done.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    xoxoxoBruce · 12 years ago
    Camilla, thanks for the story. Michael, thanks for Camilla, she does a good explanation of what's going down.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kevin · 12 years ago
    Thanks for staying in the rough and letting the world know about our brave, brave soldiers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Randall Hannaway · 12 years ago
    Michael and Camilla,

    Thank you for the continued and inspiring updates. We know that you too continue to put yourselves in harms way in order to bring the truth back home. Although we are half a world away your stories often allow us to be right there with you. Be well. R
  • This commment is unpublished.
    J. Gorman · 12 years ago
    Camilla you have pointed out and illustrated how men in combat draw strength and courage from each other. Just knowing someone would risk their life to help you when your injured makes your resolve that much stronger. It is often said that panic spreads like wildfire once it gets a foothold. It has been my observation that a display of courage and bravery by others can be contagious and ofter inspire men to accomplish more than they thought possible. Fortis incito is a fine and proper motto.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SW · 12 years ago
    Thanks to you both for your inspirational, thoughtful and kind reporting, it's greatly appreciated.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    J. Cunningham · 12 years ago
    Thanks again for everything, including the fantastic dispatches. Will be deploying sometime next year with the RMP. Hope to see you guys around. Stay out of trouble, my man.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ross · 12 years ago
    Thanks Carmilla,

    You, like Michael, write from a human side....never stop. It helps us back home realize what our soldiers are dealing with, and i love it when you recognize them by name. It's impossible to recognize them all, but every little bit helps.
    My only complaint with Michael is he only asked you to write "a couple" of stories, as in two. He could have used the phrase "a few" in his request to you, which would give us hope of reading more from you in the future. God bless you both, and stay safe always!
    We in Dongducheon, South Korea await your next dispatches.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peggy Gautraud · 12 years ago
    For every soldier out there, there is a mom some where wondering and praying; so to get news any news and especially news of the bravery which shows the caliber of the men willing to serve is comforting and gratifying. Thank you, thank you for doing a job which many would skip over for something more comfy or glamorous.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Charles McClain · 12 years ago
    Dear Camilla Fuhr Nilsson,
    Thanks for the great dispatch. You, like Michael, are an excellent writer. I am a retired U.S. Air Force aircrew member and have a U.S. Marine family member deployed in Helmand Provience. I try to get as much accurate information on how the war is going as possible. May God bless you and Michael and keep you safe as well as all our brave men and women in harms way.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dixon H Harris · 12 years ago
    Your strenuous, unadorned, direct way of reporting is perfect for a tough battlefield. Super story about the Danes. Cool, tough dudes they are.

    Sorry, but who knew?

    Your muscular prose is telling the world how it is.That's in the Michael Yon tradition. It's greatly needed when so much of journalism is merely propaganda..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JudgeRight · 12 years ago
    Camilla Fuhr Nilsson. I'll be remembering that name for future reference. The work you are doing is so important, it too is the right thing when it has to be done.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dave Fitch · 12 years ago
    Thanks for this account Camilla. Personal. Brings tears to an old warhorse.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter in MN · 12 years ago
    if you are a blonde dane, your definitely not a bimbo. Keep up the good work. Honest reporting, now that's something new. Thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dick Sherman · 12 years ago
    Thanks Carmilla and Michael for another glimpse into the world of warfare. Your journalism is inspiring to us at home. I have never served in the military, but am the brother of a US Marine (WWII) and the son of an Infantry man (WWI). Every dispatch I read reminds me to pray for your safety and for the safety and victory of all our men. Thank you for what you do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lewis B. Harder · 12 years ago
    Thanks for all you do. You are appreciated
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sara Johnson · 12 years ago
    I wish all my "thanks-you"s carried big bags of money to help keep your mission of news, coming. Doing what I can to help on that part. Keep up the stories based on truth and first hand accounts. There is no where else to obtain this. Everyday I try to spread the word to get others to access your dispatches. Hope your reader numbers are growing. Stay safe. God Bless you, and thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Allen · 12 years ago
    Camilla -

    Great reporting! Thanks so much for the details. Keep up the great work and keep safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rangers Mom · 12 years ago
    Dear Camilla, sometimes it seems we are all by ourselves in this fight. But, like Michael's British dispatches your reports on our Danish allies reminds us we not alone. You remind us that brave men from an honorable country are sharing the fight against the darkness of terrorism with us.
    And let me say as a woman how proud I am of you for being out there in the thick of it reporting the truth from ground zero. You are our own Viqueen.
    Your are in our thoughts and prayers along with Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John1 · 12 years ago
    Camilla - thanks for bravely going where few will and reporting on those brave men and women who let us all rest easier at night. Stay low and stay safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lewis Van · 12 years ago
    The website is now a favorite bookmark and I click it BEFORE I go to CNN or the New York Times. That says something for me. Modern media makes people expect "real time" video and news feeds, but the "real time" news isn't always "real" or factual. Most of the time, modern news is TOO fast, because it leads to speculations and assumptions before all the data is collected. Sometimes waiting a while to read good, quality, heartfelt, REAL journalism (like this ;-) makes all the difference in the world.
    Keep 'em coming!
    PS: some photos would make it all the more touching
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Spratico · 12 years ago
    Great writing Camilla. I hope that your reporting is as well received in Denmark as it is here. We need more reporting like this. It's also inspirational to see that we have such great allies in the Danes. They sound like a tough bunch of characters. They have to be if the Pedro crews are calling them "badasses". Keep up the good work!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    IM · 12 years ago
    ...det skulle da bare mangle :-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maddy · 12 years ago
    “Fortis incito,” inspired by our writers, as well as our coalition soldiers. Isn't it great to hear about all of those brave coalition troops, the Brits, the Danes, the Poles, the French, the Canadians, and all those other nationalities who fight with the USA, that believe in FREEDOM! These are the stories that the NY Times should be reporting, not the BS from Capitol Hill!

    Nice job Carmilla, Michael should ask you to write for him more often, or whenever he needs a hand, you are totally capable of filling in for him nicely. Thank you! We should have known that Michael would select someone of your caliber to write for him. He has an uncanny insight with people and with photographs and the telling of a story...a true story, i might add!

    Michael, maybe you should just submit Carmilla's article with your sub text added, regarding the lack of helicopters and that we are LOSING the war, unless Obama listens to his Generals on the ground. We don't need politics, we need boots on the ground! GOD'S SPEED to you ALL! Posted in Bethalto, IL near ST Louis, MO.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Hartneady · 12 years ago
    Camilla, your writing style is clear cut and enjoyable. It is difficult writing about subjects like war because of the graphic images created by the word pictures. You do an excellent job of capturing the heat and dust and the quality of the men and women over there doing a dangerous and under appreciated job. The military, both current and former, and their families appreciate the reporting efforts of people like you a great deal. Thank you very much.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rick · 12 years ago
    Camilla, thanks again for the two articles you've written. Michael Yon and journalists like you are crucially important to the families and friends of all the men and women in harm's way in Afghanistan currently, and the many more who will soon arrive or return for additional tours. You both are modern day versions of Ernie Pyle, whose books and columns should be required reading for all reporters. May your example inspire journalists the world over. Without a doubt, we need more journalists like Ernie Pyle and both of you and a whole lot less like most of the rest. Best wishes to each of you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Felipe · 12 years ago
    So writing for the NY Times...

    Great bro! One door closes and a thousand are just opening.

    Wish you well and watch your six.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Graybeard · 12 years ago
    Camella, thank you for your report. It is encouraging to us here in the US to hear what sacrifices our friends are also making to protect us all, Dane, Brit, and American. With a son over there somewhere, it is good to hear about the Pedros.
    Michael, thank you as well.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Greg · 12 years ago
    Thank you for your well-written article recognizing the Pedros. Be safe out there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    dennis · 12 years ago
    thank you very much,this was a great read. Michael good eye for talent.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nate · 12 years ago

    Thank you for reporting on events our soldiers, airmen, and marines are involved in Afghanistan. Finding stories like the one you wrote grips my heart and lets me know of the character of the people fighting for us over there.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading more of your dispatches.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    maj den · 12 years ago

    Im sure that mike is as proud of you as i am. Great job.


    Great pick. Camilla tells it like you do. Im sorry for your political grief. Keep the faiith, dude.

    Maj Den
  • This commment is unpublished.
    EricB · 12 years ago

    I read both your reports, and they are well done and informative. Keep up the good work!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MSgt TK · 12 years ago
    "Den sande soldat kæmper ikke fordi han hader hvad er foran ham, men fordi han elsker, hvad der ligger bag ham." – G.K. Chesterton
    God bless you and Mike! Keep up the great work - you'll never know how deeply it's appreciated!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James C Gonzales · 12 years ago
    Thank you for this story. I'm glad the Pedros were able to inspire the troops!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    LTC Scott · 12 years ago
    Michael and Camilla, your reporting is so very important. The "cut-and-run" media reporting on the AfPak war most often disgusts me. The politicians regularly disgust me. Weak willed countrymen disgust me. I'm only for the troops--the ones we've had to send off to do this sh*tty, necessary business. They have my unwaivering support. I can tell they also have yours. And I support you for that. Stay safe. Pray hard.
    LTC Scott
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan Johnson · 12 years ago
    Camilla and Michael, you folks are there and are telling people what is going on, Thanks you and God Bless you, keep up your vital work, someone has to tell what is really happening over there. Keep the info coming and your heads down.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CJ Mac · 12 years ago
    Camilla, thank you so much for the informative and personable writing. Michael, thank you for introducing Camilla to us. Your dispatches give us information we would otherwise never get. Great job, both of you.
    Stay safe.
    CJ, Fort Drum, NY
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 12 years ago
    I am sure that we will be hearing good things about you for a long time and I look forward to searching for your future writings.

    A huge thank you and a hug for all you do.

    Papa Ray
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Karl · 12 years ago
    Thank you guys! Michael, thanks for getting Camilla to write as well. :-) It's great hearing from some other voices.

    And, both of you, please, keep your heads down!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 12 years ago
    Camilla, very moving rendition of how our young men respect and look out for one another. Keep up the great work.

    Michael, thank you for introducing Camilla to us.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kathy Nowaski · 12 years ago
    Two of our three sons are serving in the 129th Air Wing. Our youngest son is a Captain and aircraft commander of a HH60 PaveHawk, Pedro ##. Our oldest son is CMSSgt and flight engineer on Pedro ##. While one operated out of Kandahar, the other was at Camp Bastion. Both boys told us (Mom and Dad) that this was, by far, the most rewarding deployment they ever had. We personally know some of the other personnel deployed from the same unit. While we know that it is dangerous work, they absolutely love what they do. That others may live. We are so very proud of all in the military, past and present, who know what it means to serve the "colors". Thank you Michael and Carmilla for making sure the efforts of all do not go in vain. You are doing something the mainstream media wouldn't touch. I personally don't like the fact that we put our sons and daughters in harms way, but I also know that what we are doing in Afghanistan is a good thing for the people. We need to finish the job.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    casstx · 12 years ago
    Camilla, I'm so surprised you haven't been thanked for your work. I'm glad you're giving us a different perspective of things, and it's filled with wonderful details. Thank you for your work!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris Roberts · 12 years ago
    Camilla and Mike; your good work is always appreciated. My son (a Brit Engineer) has just returned home safe from Helmand after a tour with 2Rifles (thank you to all who prayed for him) and he spent his first day home reading your blogs about Sangin and the Green Zone. You tell it how it is, honest, detailed and clear. For that, many thanks and please keep it up. Your photos bring home the human dimension and the maps and graphics are great too.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Stafford · 12 years ago
    Michael, I have just discovered you, and at the perfect time to also discover Camilla! With our American news media I was unaware the Danes were even participating. It seems all they want to tell us about is how many Americans were killed today.
    Thanks so much for your human interest amgle of reporting. Now that I am subscribing to Michael's dispatches, I would love to also subscribe to Camilla's if she is doing the same sort of thing. If not, keep her contributing to your posts, Michael.
    You both have my sincere admiration!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sherrianne · 12 years ago
    "Thank you for your insightful, compassionate reporting" Looking forward to seeing more....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris Pugrud · 12 years ago
    After four years of reading Michael's dispatches and the three and half years my wife and I have been working in Iraq and Afghanistan, each one of these dispatches still brings a tear to my eye. I know the work I do on the FOB/COB/AF does not directly save a life, but knowing that I help get the information into the hands of the people that are risking and saving lives every day makes all of the tent living and other "joys" worthwhile.

    Camilla and Michael, please keep writing and sharing what it is those on the pointy end are accomplishing!

    Chris - KAF, South Park (tent city).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    charles coles · 12 years ago
    Thanks for sharing Camilla, It's good to know what's happening. God bless the Danes.
    Charlie C. - Lt.FDNY Ret.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jesper · 12 years ago
    Lets get more posts from Camilla please
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thomas · 12 years ago
    Want to praise the persons working PEDROs in particullar and units the like in generell. Watch and understand why they deserve praise. Some of the pictures touched me deeply because i know the places. Wittnesed their work first hand on two occasions.
    Paise thee!

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