Gear Spotlight: Take a Whirl in the Guard’s Whirly Birds

Imagine for a minute that you are in a movie. A disaster movie. A disaster movie where Mother Nature has lashed out across the region. There are fires and floods, high winds and rain, downed power lines throwing sparks into the air, and a young mother clutching her toddler on her roof trying to get away from the rising water, her tears mixing with the spray of water from the sky.

You are, of course, the hero of this movie because you are part of a National Guard helicopter flight crew preparing to go rescue that woman and her child. And you know in your heart that you will not let her down.

The Blackhawk does it all, from battlefield support to domestic rescue operations.

The Blackhawk does it all, from battlefield support to domestic rescue operations.

Now here’s the question: As the scene unfolds, which Soldier are you?

Are you the pilot or co-pilot? Are you the Soldier preparing to swing down in the harness? Are you the crew chief coordinating activities on the ground? Are you a mechanic making last-minute pre-flight checks to make sure the aircraft is mission-ready?

If you don’t like the search and rescue scenario, choose another: fighting forest fires, spotting activity on known drug routes, combat missions against enemies of our country. Take your pick, because the Guard has a helicopter for every eventuality. Here are a few:

CHINOOK

After more than 50 years of service, the venerable Chinook is the Army’s unmistakable workhorse with its trademark dual rotors set fore and aft. Since the Vietnam conflict, Chinooks have been picking up, hauling, and air dropping Soldiers, vehicles, ordnance, equipment, relief supplies, and more.

But make no mistake, they may be an older design, but they are by no means obsolete. In fact, the Chinook just keeps getting better with age. Today’s Chinooks are more powerful than ever after several upgrades that essentially make it twice as powerful as the original model.

The roomy fuselage is large enough to carry vehicles like the Humvee (giving new meaning to the term “cargo”), 33 fully-outfitted Soldiers, or in first aid duty, up to 24 litters for injured Soldiers or civilians. But that’s not all, because it also features external hauling capability. Basically, a load that is too large to fit into the bay – like, say, a fighter jet – can be tied to the underside of the helicopter and air lifted to a destination.

One of the most distinctive features of the Chinook is the rear loading ramp and door. Not only does this simplify loading and unloading, but it allows skilled pilots to do the Pinnacle Maneuver, whereby they set down only the rear of the craft to offload Soldiers or vehicles, thus increasing the overall functionality of the Chinook helicopter.

KIOWA

From the largest common-use helicopter in the Guard fleet, we move to the smallest. The Kiowa Warrior is a combat-ready helicopter that is primarily used for armed reconnaissance missions in support of ground troops. It also is used in security, target acquisition and designation, command and control, light attack, and defensive air combat missions in support of combat and contingency operations.

With its Mast Mounted Site and highly advanced navigation and digital imaging system, the Kiowa Warrior very easily becomes the eye in the sky for National Guard operational commands. The Mast Mounted Site and onboard digital communications system makes it possible to send precise target information to other aircraft or artillery units, as well as provide near-real-time battlefield or operational imagery to command and control elements. Also, the Laser Designator provides autonomous designation for the Laser HELLFIRE missile or remote designation for other laser-guided precision weapons.

BLACKHAWK

The Army National Guard designates the Blackhawk as a utility tactical transport helicopter. That means it does a little bit of everything. But in essence, it improves the overall mobility of the Guard’s ground forces.

In theater, it gives command full-spectrum support across the asymmetric battlefield. It can carry a fully equipped 11-man Infantry squadron into hostile territory, place a 105 mm howitzer along with its six-person crew and 30 rounds of ammunition, or provide MEDEVAC airlifts for injured personnel. It’s even armed with two 7.62 mm machine guns so Crew Chiefs can provide suppressing fire in hot landing zones.

Domestically, this is likely the helo that would be used in rescue operations and transporting people and equipment from place to place.

APACHE

The Apache were among the fiercest and most feared of all the Native American tribal warriors in the 1800s, which makes them the perfect namesake for this impressive machine. Where the other helicopters on this list fulfill multiple purposes, the Apache Longbow was made for only one: complete aerial combat supremacy. And it delivers on its purpose with HELLFIRE missiles and a wicked 30 mm chain gun that puts fear into those who face it.

The Army’s “Fact Files” Web site describes the Apache Longbow’s mission thusly:

“[The Apache] Conducts rear, close, and shaping missions, including deep precision strike. Conducts distributed operations, precision strikes against relocatable targets, and provides armed reconnaissance when required in day, night, obscured battlefield, and adverse weather conditions.”

What that translates to in plain English is: “You really don’t want to mess with the Apache Longbow.”

So back to our movie. How will you be the hero of this thriller? Whether you envisioned yourself piloting these varied aircraft, or as part of the crew, or arming them, or making them airworthy, you can only do it in the National Guard. Go to the Guard’s job board to search for your starring role today.

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Angels On Call

From the jungles of Southeast Asia to the dunes of Afghanistan, medical evacuation aircraft have always been a sign of hope and rescue, even in the darkest hours of combat. Sergeant Cassandra Kennedy, a 68W with the Massachusetts National Guard who spent a yearlong tour in Iraq last year, reveals the specialized training – split-second actions – it takes to succeed as a flight combat medic.

SGT Cassandra Kennedy, Army National Guard[The medical field is] a different realm of the military. You think of the power, might, and strength of the military, but I get to be on the other side of things and help people – keeping my Soldiers safe and healthy.

In the flight medic program, we train in flight simulators. It’s kind of the shell of an aircraft, and it’s set up with a ‘SimMan’ – a mannequin-like machine that can breathe and bleed. You can monitor its heart rate. We run through simulations of the things we would see overseas and what we would have to deal with in the back of an aircraft. It’s basically like working on a patient in the back of a large SUV.

Once you get back to your unit from training, you focus on flying with the crew and working on your crew coordination. Flight medics are all full members of the flight crew. We have to be qualified to do just as much as a crew chief.

When we’re called in for a medevac (medical evacuation), the seriousness of the injury is pretty substantial. In the back of an aircraft, it’s just you. It’s not like a civilian ambulance where you call in to the hospital and talk to a doctor. We have to know what to do by ourselves.

In Iraq, we had operations ready to go 24 hours. In addition to [U.S. troops], we were transporting civil Soldiers, contractors, intercountry nationals that were working from different bases, and a few Iraqi military.

A medevac request comes in on our radios, and we have to be off the ground within 15 minutes – that’s from getting the call, running to the aircraft, and taking off. While we were deployed, our average time company-wide was seven minutes. You drop whatever you’re doing, and you run.

In the air, we’ll coordinate with the medics on the ground and make sure everybody’s ready. We’ll try to land in a base area, but if we couldn’t do that we would land wherever the injury was. Once we land, we want to get the injured people into the aircraft and get them where they need to be as quickly as possible.

The patient would be ready for us – lined up in the LZ (landing zone). We’ll get a quick report from the medic on the ground, roll the people in the aircraft, and take off. That process is maybe less than five minutes.

In the aircraft, we’ll do our full head-to-toe assessment; put in an IV if they need it, hook them up to the monitor, provide fluids, apply a tourniquet – lifesaving measures. We’ll make sure there are not more injuries that weren’t reported. We’re also talking to the medical treatment facility to let them know what they need to do to get ready.

Once we’re landing outside the hospital, they already have a team waiting to help us get stationed at the aircraft. We’ll wheel the patient into the ER and give the doctors a quick report of what we did and what we gave, and then they take over.

 

Story and photo courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.

 

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