Story and photos by Dustin Senger
When Soldiers attending the Fort Carson Warrior Leader Course rehearsed medevac requests Jan. 17, the Army’s latest in medical support aircraft responded.
A battlefield situational exercise concludes the multicomponent WLC at Fort Carson, which is organized by the 168th Regiment, Regional Training Institute. New coordination efforts between the training regiment and Reserve aviators are helping WLC evaluators better assess the Army’s future leaders.
During each 15-day course, WLC officials evaluate Soldiers using exams and tasks, while focusing on Army history, physical fitness, squad drills, communication skills, leadership competency and war fighting proficiency. As a culminating event, students transition to a tactical environment and lead a squad.
Soldiers who are ready for noncommissioned officer promotions must attend WLC, which is open to all occupational specialties. Graduation from WLC, or an equivalent course, is required for a recommendation to staff sergeant, according to Army Regulation 600-8-19, Enlisted Promotions and Reductions.
“We’re trying to make the training as realistic as possible,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Henry, Headquarters, 168th Reg. Henry is a combat lifesaver instructor and the regiment’s senior medic. He said the unit began testing the integration of medevac crews into the Fort Carson WLC framework last month.
A complete integration plan kicked off in January, combining WLC classroom six with Army Reservists assigned to 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment — medevac crews employing the Army’s most modern Black Hawk configuration, HH-60M.
The unit dedicated two aircraft to WLC students practicing emergency calls.
“(The WLC students) have to work off an actual operations order,” said Henry. “Based on that operations order, we issue fragmentation orders. They then conduct a course that includes opposition fire, (improvised explosive device) simulations and medevac procedures, ground and air.”
“It was really good training,” said Spc. Nickolas Noga, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, who graduated Jan. 19 with classroom six. The infantryman has fought in Afghanistan, where he experienced the chaos that unfolds by exchanging fire with enemy forces.
“You never know,” said Noga. “When you get deployed everything can go haywire, and you don’t know what to do. Everyone should have sufficient knowledge of medevacs and be proficient at it.”
The Soldiers from Company F, 7th Bn., 158th Avn. Reg., began receiving
HH-60M Black Hawks in early 2010, according to unit instructor pilots. They said the aircraft’s latest configuration includes hotter turbines, improved blades, computerized cockpit panels, electronic litter lifts and a more secured patient compartment.
“It’s great training for us,” said 1st Lt. Derrek Montoya, Company F, 7th Bn., 158 Avn. Reg., while waiting for a call from classroom six with his pilot-in-command, crew chief and medic. “We get to do our whole routine — run-up and getting ready. If we get deployed, this is what we’d be doing.”
Montoya appreciates the opportunity to practice prioritizing tasks in hectic situations. He said it’s easy to feel “task saturated” while surveying an area, coordinating with other aircraft, mitigating emergency situations, monitoring internal frequencies and maintaining contact with ground forces.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andrew Bright, Company F, 7th Bn., 158 Avn. Reg., is an instructor pilot who’s deployed to Iraq three times. Bright was preparing to evaluate Montoya’s response to the “nine-line” from the WLC students.
“The more we can throw at them here, in a training environment, the more prepared they’ll be … when we deploy,” said Bright, regarding the medevac crews. The standard reaction time to a nine-line is 15 minutes, he said, but the company often rehearses responses to urgent calls in less than 10 minutes.
While the two squads assigned to classroom six were walking “humanitarian aid” through an icy gorge in subfreezing temperatures, a training-IED detonated, covering mud and snow in a cloud of white powder.
While securing the area, a “combatant” appeared about 50 feet from their beaten path, firing blanks from an M16 rifle. The Soldiers returned fire, simulating enemy engagement. Before the exchange ended, a WLC small group leader tapped a Soldier for evacuation, calling him a gunshot wound. The Soldier dropped.
After the Black Hawk landed, Sgt. Matthew Larson exited the aircraft, handed his headset to his crew chief, grabbed a handheld radio and met up with Soldiers.
The combat medic asked for more information about the “wounds,” assessed the casualty for quick treatments, and then adjusted and tightened their litter.
“We’re trying to make it as real as possible,” said Larson, who has deployed to Iraq as a ground medic. He has a bachelor’s degree in emergency response medical services and experience with hospitals and aircraft. “The biggest thing is talking through it … speaking from experience to the guys that haven’t done it before.”
“It helped us get a feeling of actually having a helicopter come down,” said Spc. Shaughn Daniel, 1st Bn., 22nd Inf. Reg., 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div. The M-1 Abrams tank system maintainer said his occupational specialty rarely requires training with aircraft.
“It’s really loud,” said Daniel. “The wind is blowing. You’re trying not to get your head blown off and your heart is pumping. It really helps when you get that type of training … when you do it in real life, it’s not so jarring — so you won’t get someone killed.”
Daniel first practiced loading a simulated casualty onto a Black Hawk at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., while preparing for his first combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. During the training, he tripped and dropped a litter. However, successful medevacs get easier with practice, he said.
“As you do it more, you get more used to it and you’re not as scared. Less things can go wrong.”
“A lot of people haven’t been in training situations where you actually have (helicopters),” said Noga. “This is giving people a better feeling of what it’s like to actually evacuate a casualty in combat. … The more you practice back home, the better the chance you have of saving your battle buddy’s life.”