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.
    Sam Makarevich · 11 years ago
    When you said, "This ANA soldier responded with anger in his eyes. His face radiated hatred."...do you have any idea what he was angry at/with/about?? Considering he was receiving the best attention he'll ever receive in his life, I would have thought he would have been exhibiting a more "grateful" attitude...go figure.

    Anyhow...kudos to our troops and those that supply care/comfort to our wounded. God Bless!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sam Makarevich · 11 years ago
    BTW...I'm Christine Hamovitz's brother...I'm very proud of her and her service with the med group. She, myself, and my brother have all served (or are serving) in the USAF and proudly tell EVERYONE what a great service it is. All our services are fantastic and I'm proud to say I am brethren to them all.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Christopher Morton · 11 years ago
    To Michael, again, you writing is so vivid, so powerful, so amazing. Your pictures so riveting (loved the curved camera angle). If there is any justice the name Michael Yon and Purlitzer Prize will linked forever. Thanks for all you are doing to keep us up to date and supporting our men and women over in this war. Stay safe and know that we praying for your safety along with those fighting.

    To the men and women serving, especially the med crews - THANK YOU! You humble me. You are indeed the newest greatest generation. Those who think America is in decline need look no further then you and your fellow soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors to know that is a lie. I swell with pride at every thing you do. America is behind you, even if yuo don't always hear that.

    To all the fellow readers, thanks for sending in contributions to keep Yon doing his thing. I know many of you are like us and can only send small donations, but as I was reminded recently in researching America's response to WW2, many hands makes light lifting.

    A special comment to MSgts Porter and Hamblin (and to all the parents out there of these folks). Sir and Madam, I salute you! Your daughter is all that I can hope my three kids (8 and under) grow up to become. We are from a 4th generation military family (though I did not serve because of health), and we share with our kids what we can of the sacrifice your daughter and others like her are making. I can only hope and pray that I raise kids who will be as fine and serve their country and the cause of freedom in whatever manner their giftings lead them. Thank you to you and the others for raising this generation. America owes you a debt of gratitude and here is hoping your sons and daughters return home soon victorious and safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    epador · 11 years ago
    This is great and needs more widespread exposure. Keep it up.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kevlaur · 11 years ago
    Thanks again for making us cry. What a great story. Dozens more reasons to be proud of my AF. Also, thank you for telling the AF story. We have been getting beat up for not doing enough/nukes/f-22s/etc. These fine folks are not affected by it and press on giving care to the wounded.

    I Am An American Airman.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jamie · 11 years ago
    Great work Michael,And to those that fight stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark Ex British Army · 11 years ago
    It may be of interest, that another Chris Ryan was a member of the famous SAS Bravo two zero patrol which was bumped behind enemy lines during gulf war 1. He was the one that walked 200 miles to safety in syria, which has to be the longest un aided escape and evasion ever.

    So it would seem that there is something special in the name.

    Well done chris
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alexander Jenner · 11 years ago
    Hi Michael. I have been following your blog for sometime now. I found you after a google search because I was disatisfied with the mainstream English-language reporting of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You bring a much more person and upfront angle to reporting. I hope that you are getting the recognition you deserve. Stay safe and keep reporting.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SALMA · 11 years ago
    Living in Iran...i feel connected and much closer to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.i see my self in the heart of the war.
    so its not only late to be indifferent but its also not fair to know about them and ignore it all.
    i love to care and i hope one day my dream of moving to America comes true,so that i can publish my poems and dedicate them to the ones who felt pain,saw the most horrifying images and grieved in the absence of their friends...
    By the side of these brave soldiers,i will forever feel proud.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Garry Sheets · 8 years ago
    Michael, It has been years and 240 days since we both were on this mission and I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was my 45th Birthday and I was most honored to have served on that unforgetable day. Now I sit reflecting from the very spot the mission initiated from. Yes, I am back to serve my nation and to tend to my injured Brothers and Sisters for the fifth time. I am most thankful for your support and for getting realistic info and photos to the masses. Maybe people will change their minds on who their heroes truly are. I would be lying if I said I do not mind when people see sports figures our celebrities as their personal heroes. My hero is an 18/19 year old Marine/Soldier that sleeps in a ditch, eats his/her meals from prepackaged bag and puts his/her life on the line every day for our freedom.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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