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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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Simon · 12 years ago
    Thanks for the updates on the wounded Michael. We hear very little about them. I had heard about the Canadian training mishap and wondered how there were five casualties from a "firing range accident" - now I know it was a claymore which explains it.

    Likewise the wounded Aussie. We sometimes hear that they are wounded but it's never been reported that this guy lost an eye. Tragic.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Simon · 12 years ago
    Just in case anybody should think I'm neglecting the American wounded also described here, I'm not - it's just the US media, for all their shortcomings, seem to report on their wounded better than the Canadian and Australian press do, including quite often articles on the individuals and their stories.

    This never seems to happen in Canada or Australia where the Defence Departments still control the release of information heavily.

    Best wishes to all the wounded heroes for their recovery.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jean · 12 years ago
    Thank you Michael for keeping us aware there are people who by the Grace of GOD fight for us and their families and I pray for all and know they are in good hands with the dedicated doctors and nurses who care for our wounded.I pray all stay safe and ask they be healed fast and thank them from the bottom of my heart for what they all do for us.GOD BLESS AND PROTECT YOU AND ALL WHO SERVE.I pray for their families also who also sacrafice for us GOD BLESS THEM AND KEEP THEM STRONG.Thank you for the wonderfull pictures and I will pass them on to remind people to pray and keep our Troops in their everyday thoughts.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kent Mitchell · 12 years ago
    Hey, I heard Marines are doing some fighting about Marjah.
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    nancy charlene · 12 years ago
    thank you for your work. I will continue to support in prayer (right now have no inconme). But I will continue to relay what you have shared to my son on the front line. This is important. It may save his life or one of his fellow soldiers. Thank you. Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Wright · 12 years ago
    Hope people back here are following your articles, there are loaded with info on conditions over there. Your articles tell the human side of the story and not merely the operational details. Plus. your photos are superb! The people over there are wonderful and good. Thanks for covering the story of all those people.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Donald Cathcart LtCo · 12 years ago
    Keep up the great work you are doing for the good of our Nation and the morale of the troops and relatives back home. We deeply appreciate your sacrifices, hardships and dangerous endeavors to keep us informed. GBU Michael and all our troops in harm's way. Mofak
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Witold · 12 years ago
    I wish I was there to help. Tell them big Thank You from the rest of US.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tom · 12 years ago
    I think it is great what these people do every day, they are truly angels. God Bless the Caregivers
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    Greg Turnell · 12 years ago
    I have two sons in the Army, actually one is in Ft. Leonard Wood getting smoked as I type this the other will be deploying to Afghanistan later this year. Have two nephews in the Marine Corp both have already been to Iraq. I often wish that this conflict had occurred when I was younger so I could fight the fight instead of these boys but I do what I can do to help over here. Was visiting a friend of my sons at Walter Reed a few months ago, he is a Green Beret and had his lower leg mangled by a IED, he was lucky that the primary charge did not explode but just the detonating charge. He choose to have the lower leg amputated because it would allow him more dexterity and the opportunity to rejoin his unit. What a testimony to the character of our fighting men and women. I'm a firefighter here in DC and after looking at some of your pictures Michael I noticed that I may be able to do a little more to help our troops. I recently invented a rescue cart that helps transport equipment and or patients with as little as 1-2 rescuers. If you or some of your readers feel this device could help our troops let me know. I’d be more than happy to donate a few to a unit that could use them. Thanks again Michael for not only all your reporting but your previous service.
    Greg Turnell

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    Sara Johnson · 12 years ago
    This dispatch is stunning. I am "quieted" by the duty to country, care for the injured and devotion to their jobs these folks exhibit. I am silently saying a prayer for all those whose story you have shared. The American Military are amazing examples of human compassion and protection. Thank God. The newspapers we get are increasingly being unread, as we reference your reports for information. Godspeed to all.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve Novotny · 12 years ago
    Thanks Michael... It's great to see our guys well taken care of by the best medicine in the world. It just saddens me to see guys injured by suicide bombers who give their life because of the deceptive lies being told to them. Maybe a guy was promised he have his family sheltered and fed so he blew himself up. Unbelievable.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AFSister · 12 years ago
    My cousin is a Blackhawk medivac pilot. I tell her all the time that I hope she's bored... because if she is... our guys aren't getting hurt. But, as your report confirms, I know that if our guys ARE hurt, they have the best trauma care available on the planet.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jennifer MackInday · 12 years ago
    Michael - another moving piece. Your strength is amazing. Despite everything you've seen, your work continues to be fresh and more informative than any main stream media. Thank you for encouraging the wounded. Stay safe and keep the news coming.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ryan Willey · 12 years ago
    Thanks to all of those who care for our wounded soldiers. Often you are overlooked by the media and deserve a lot of credit so thank you once again.
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    Pat Rissling · 12 years ago
    Michael, I recently found out about you when I started investigating Kandahar Air Base because my son will be deployed to that location the beginning of May. He is in the Air National Guard from Charlotte, NC. I have become a fan of yours and want to thank you for all your hard work. You truly let us know what really is going on. God Bless You and the troops!
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    Army Dad 25thID · 12 years ago
    I couldn't get through this without crying. How do you do it?
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    Cristina M · 12 years ago
    Thank you for your continuing service and truthful words. A lot of people don't realize the amazing things that the military does for it's wounded warriors. It can be heartbreaking to see these men and women come off the aircraft and all they want is to know if their buddies are safe. But each day I get out of bed knowing that just a smile and a kind word can mean the world to them right now. Thank you to everyone for your support and prayers. We truly appreciate everything you do!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brad Bonds · 12 years ago
    There's no praise and honor enough in this world for Major Lucy Lehker and all the others like her. Can you sense the power of life in her cradling his head and whispering in his ear? Imagine her touch and the sound of her voice, to him! There is a great truth in the nurses' legacy of the Healing Hands.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Oscar G · 12 years ago
    As a US Army Medic during the Vietnam War this piece of writing has special meaning to me. What a great article, with excellent pictures, they show the compassion and warm of those attending the wounded. To the "Lucy" nickname should be added the word "angel' to read "Angel Lucy" because those whisper are from the heart of an angel.

    Thank you Michael, best of luck and keep safe

    San Antonio, Texas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eric Bowers · 12 years ago
    Thank you for what you are doing over there. I can't tell you what it means to these people when their story is told exactly how it happens without the spin of the mass media being thrown into the mix. When this conflict is finally over and we have defeated the evils that lurk there, people will need to be reminded of the sacrifices that were made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Your stories will be that reminder to many for years to come. Stay safe over there, and keep up the good work.

    1Lt Eric Bowers
    McChord AFB, WA
    C-17 aircrew
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris T · 12 years ago
    As the father of Cristina M (above) I can't express my appreciation enough for what you do for our troops and the thinking citizens back home. As a Marine Vietnam vet and an Air Guard Desert Storm vet I understand the need for top notch combat medical care. I'm very proud that my daughter Cristina M is a part of that medical team. She knows almost all of the medical people in the Whispers dispatch and remembers that mission clearly when it came into Bagram. She verifies that Nurse "Lucy" is every bit as sweet, kind, and compassionate as she seems in the photos.
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    Jon Viehe · 12 years ago
    Another great dispatch. We do not get these stories from the MSM, and its great to hear about those soldiers risking their lives for us. Keep giving them our thanks.
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    Marina Freeman · 12 years ago
    You provide amazing insight for those of us back home. After reading your dispatches, I am speechless... but I still manage to tell others about your work.
    Thank you for your coverage.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    bartdp · 12 years ago
    Having gone through 12th Evac Hospital in RVN, I understand the concern and treatment given by these medical personnel, you have to love them, they have extremely tough jobs. God Bless Them!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tammy Hodges · 12 years ago
    Michael, these people are all so incredible and inspiring, and so are you. You don't know how bad I wish I was able to go over there and do the things they do.
    I just can't say thank you enough.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    bsmarrt · 12 years ago
    As usual, there has been no reports in the Australian media about any Aussies being injured in Afghanistan.
    The latest report on the Australian Army website is dated 17th Feb on a incident that happened on the 12th.
    This is the report, note the discrepency:

    "Two more troops wounded
    17 February 2010
    Soldiers from the Second Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force patrol in the Mirabad Valley Region.
    Two more Australian soldiers have been identified as suffering minor wounds during an Improvised Explosive Device attack in Afghanistan on 12 February 2010.
    The two soldiers from the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force 2 patrol group received minor head injuries during the attack and were aero-medically evacuated to Tarin Kowt for treatment.
    The soldiers’ wounds were not classed as serious, and both are expected to return to full duties. Their families have been notified.
    A soldier reported as seriously wounded in the attack, will return to Australia for further medical treatment. "

    So there is obviously a third soldier wounded in the attack.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Norm Sevigny · 12 years ago
    I flew many C-1 0 airevac missions out of Camn Ranh Bay in 1970-71. The USAF flight nurses are angels of mercy and compassion. God love them.
    As an aside we loved flying the airevac's because we got to share the airevac meals: fresh milk and baloney sandwiches. Small joys in war.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Buster Mangham · 12 years ago
    I've got a many an hr on theC1 0 and C141 flying Aerovac missions in the 70's and 80's.
    These pictures bring back memories.
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    Charlie Lambert · 12 years ago
    As a mother of an ex marine and an ex 82nd airborner... and a husband who is ex army and a deceased father who is ex navy and was a prisoner of war for several years in the Phillipines... GOD BLESS YOU ALL FOR ALL YOU DO FOR US AND FOR THE WORLD..... you are in my prayers.... thank you thank you thank you...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Richard Aubrey · 12 years ago
    Read a comment regarding either WW II or Viet Nam about female nurses. A boy can be brave in front of his buddies, but it costs him.
    He doesn't have to be brave in front of his mother or sister.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gary McCaleb · 12 years ago
    I spent a dozen years as an EMT in rural areas--meaning that my patients were often known to me, and it was one heck of a long way to a hospital. One long run--some sixty miles out of town doing a prescribed burn when a young lady forester was run over by a rolling log and horribly injured--always stuck in my mind. By the time we got to the pavement we'd used our bag of tricks and all we could do was drive fast--no helicopters in our little backwater. I got to see her a couple days later in ICU--and the first words out of her mouth were, "thank you for holding my hand...." Which, I would add, was about all that we could do besides pray for most of the trip. So seeing Lucy whispering in that trooper's ear just touched my heart in a way I can't explain--but God bless her and the many others serving on those long, tough flights. The medical stuff keeps the body going--but the humanity of caring keeps the soul alive. We pray every night for you all....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SrA Brittany Morrow · 12 years ago
    I work in the squadron you did the story on, though I was not on the flightline that day. Your article and pictures are wonderful... it's nice to have that to pass on to my family back home, so they can see what our job is here. Thank you for your support!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    crosspatch · 12 years ago
    Don't ever for a moment think your work over there isn't appreciated and your sacrifice unnoticed. Sometimes it takes folks like Mr. Yon to show you to us but we know you are there. He puts a name and a face on you and lets us hold you a little closer to our hearts. I have, quite simply, been amazed by this generation of Americans. Your devotion to your fellow service members is truly awe inspiring. Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marg Foenander · 12 years ago
    Thankyou for this article.As an Aussie,we hardly get any feed back on our troops.They think sometimes that we don't care,it's not that,it's we don't know!Can't even send a care package out unless you know someone,so while it is sad to hear about our soldiers getting wounded,I'm glad to see they are well taken care of,thanks for the good work you do there,stay safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brash · 12 years ago
    Keep up the good work mate. I flew with the USAF Aero-Evac guys and girls in 2005. They are very dedicated and very skilled people. A true credit to their Service and their Country. Here's to the 79th!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    malcolm · 12 years ago
    Another excellent article Mr Yon, I'll pitch in a few quid when pay day troops round again :-) The work of the medical teams out in the 'stan is simply amazing, Ii have watched a number of programmes on them (starting with Ross Kemp's vignettes in his "Afghanistan" series on Sky, and continued by ITV), which focused on the teams in Camp Bastion where the UK soldiers tend to g for treatment before repatriation home.

    So to quote some idiom at you - the medics are the dogs’ bollocks

    (if you need it explaining just ask a squaddie).

    Stay safe and the best of luck (and hunting) to our lads (all those serving in ISAF) out there
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mr. Clean · 12 years ago
    Thank you for sharing the unbelievable service that these flight crews provide to our wounded. A tear rolled down this old jarhead's cheek reading about Major Lucy whispering into that soldier's ear. To the many Lucy's out there, thank you for taking care of our troops with such committment and love. It fills me with pride to know that our best and brightest are sacrificing so much for our defense and for the defense of a people many knew nothing of just short decade ago. Michael, your work should be required reading for all our politicians and citizens. Thank you for highlighting the very best amongst the very worst circumstances.
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    The baby.. · 12 years ago
    Being a flight crew is one thing, but they come from somewhere! Thank you for all the help from the Medical Staff on the ground too! We appreciate the help always!
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    Kim Kalinauskas · 12 years ago
    Dear Michael,

    I'm the wife to one of the Air Force Lt. (nursing staff) in this story. It is great that you cover the stories of the 'heroes' that fight to keep our land safe and the 'heroes' that mend them physically and mentally. I am very proud of our military and I was proud to see my husband in action. Thank you so much for the pics!

    PS. If you have any more I would love to see them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ben Chua · 12 years ago
    I am Canadian so am grateful for the superb care they received on these missions. Major Lucy is simply amazing.
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    Mad Dog · 12 years ago
    another brilliant story about some very dedicated and brilliant people. The leader caring about the disposition of his wounded comrades, the whispering Major, the efficient flight crew and then Mike there with his camera and expressive pen!

    All I can say to those who come here is CONTRIBUTE to Mike! He touches so many people in so many ways!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Edward Cope · 12 years ago
    God Bless you for bringing us the stories of this war that the mainstream media fails to. God Bless nurse "Lucy", that part of your story brought this old Soldier to tears.

    Michael, YOU are the most relevant journalist in this war. Period!!.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kurt Schoeneman · 12 years ago
    Me Vietnam. Sons, one airborne ranger, other just returned from 14 months in Iraq. His vehicle hit by IED, but he is ok. I contribute to you, Michael. However, I am uncomfortable about our drones firing hellfire missiles on supposed Taliban targets. I am uncomfortable about the 21 Afghani civilians killed recently. An accident of intelligence. Who takes care of them? What about the 12-14 year old boys in Waziristan listening to drones flying over, wondering who will get a hellfire present? Some of them are smart and they will not forget.

    Your reporting makes me emotional too. I am happy that we have dedicated people looking out for our guys, but I wonder if, in the long run, our activities are going to be beneficial or whether they will just lead to endless bad Karma, so to speak.
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    1Lt Parsons · 12 years ago
    Michael, I wanted to thank you for the great work you are doing. It’s hard for deployed troops to explain to family and friends the things we see while in areas such as this. Your posts help families understand why many members train as much as they do and volunteer for deployments. I can tell you many of the individuals in your story have devoted more than 100 days each year training and deploying. This is significant since they are all reservists. They all have civilian careers and families that lose this valuable time with the member. That loss of time is especially difficult on children since it is hard to understand why mom or dad is always gone. I know I will use your post to show my girls what we do and why it is important to be here.
    I would also like to ask families and friends of OEF/OIF Veterans to encourage them to enroll at a local VA. I work in the VA as an OEF/OIF Case Manager where I see the same strong commitment to ensure our Veterans get the best care available. The VA has been working hard to try and address the needs of the returning Veteran. Whether it is for problems adjusting back to civilian life or complex medical care, we want to make sure everyone gets the care they have earned. One important thing to remember is that all Honorably Discharged Veterans are guaranteed enrollment in the VA for the first five years following release from duty.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    larry severson · 12 years ago
    My wife is just behind the scenes of these pictures and the kids and I would just like to say how proud we are of her nursing abilities and dedication to the cause. Be safe and hurry home mom we miss you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt Iveson · 12 years ago
    I just wanted to offer my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the men and women who have taken up the responsibility of caring for our wounded soldiers. As a mental health professional, I had the honor of working with a U.S. Army combat medic who was suffering from PTSD. It was heartwrenching to hear the toll that caring for our dying warriors takes on these people. This one young lady, in particular, considered herself a failure for every life lost on her watch while serving in Afghanistan. She told me a story of watching a friend of hers bleed to death aboard a blackhawk hellicopter, and knew there was nothing she could do about it. Please take every opportunity to thank and pray for our medical personnel serving in the military. Remind them of all the lives they have SAVED that no one else could have. They suffer from IEDs and gunshot wounds all the same, only the injuries are not their own.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jeff Porter And Anna · 12 years ago

    Sir, thanks for the work you do and the years of service to this great country. We are the proud parents of TSgt Kat Hamblin and love the pics of all the crew and what they are doing over there. I would like to make a few statements about her that she may not have shared with you as I did not see them in the article. She is an experienced flight medic that loves her job. Not just a pretty face and cheerleader. She has dedicated herself in many areas in the military and being a flight medic is only one of them. When she is at home she helps train our new Officers in Officer Training School providing them with all the knowledge and experiences that she has to help them to become better future officers. She also is a professional cheer instructor and teaches many impressionable young people not only cheer and dance but the core values of the Air Force to help them hopefully become a strong and productive citizen. This little lady is so much more than a pretty face and I am so proud that she decided to join our great military and try to make a difference. HOOAH!!!!! GOD SPEED TO ALL OUR MEN AND WOMAN. We love you miss you and pray for you all.

    Sleep well tonight America, our men and woman are protecting us all.

    MSgt Porter (Ret)
    MSgt Hamblin (Ret)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Terry · 12 years ago
    I'm retired US Army and I travel to Germany about once a year Space Available on military aircraft. In early 2009 I was privileged to ride on a C-17 medical aircraft, returning to Ramstein from Andrews AFB with a medical crew. They had flown in (about an 8 hour flight), unloaded and turned around to go back for another load. Needles to say they sacked out immediately after reaching cruising level (another 8 hour flight). I know they were exhausted.

    Returning, I had the good fortune to catch a C-17 that was returning from Iraq to Fort Campbell, KY with three Blackhawk Dustoff helicopters and their crews after a year tour. I sat next to a young warrant officer pilot that was returning from his third tour as a pilot. He had made two tours as an enlisted mechanic/crew chief before becoming a pilot.

    I am a WWII/Korea/Vietnam era retiree and I must say I have never been as impressed with the caliber of our military as I am today.

    Please keep up the good work with your reporting
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill and Sandy Winan · 12 years ago
    Thank you for the reporting and a big thanks to all those who are serving. Our son is on his first deployment and this gave us great insight to a standard days work for him. Will keep all those that serve in our prayers.

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