Since the Vietnam War and before, brave Soldiers have
descended from the sky for a chance to provide life-saving
help to the warrior wounded in the midst of battle. During
the pitch dark early morning hours one day last Fall, a team
of Fighting Eagles risked everything to once again try to be
those angels in the greatest moment of need.
March 4, 2017 – U.S. Army Capt. Trevor P. Joseph, 1st Lt. Aaron
P. Cruz, Sgt. Loran M. Lott, and Spc. Samuel E. Perez, all from C
Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation
Regiment, were awarded The Air Medal with ‘V’ Device for their
heroic actions as a helicopter medical evacuation crew during a
November 3, 2016 exfiltration of wounded U.S. and Afghanistan
Soldiers pinned down by enemy fire in Kunduz Province. (Photo by
Harrison, U.S. Forces Afghanistan Public Affairs)
Just after midnight, Nov. 3, 2016, the helicopter medical
evacuation (MEDEVAC) crews at Camp Pamir were notified of an
impending point-of-injury mission to rescue several U.S. and
Afghan casualties wounded during a fire fight in Kunduz,
Afghanistan. Two crews, identified by their call signs
DUSTOFF 62 and DUSTOFF 66, stood ready to launch.
intensity of the on-going battle prevented the ground forces
from sending critical information about the medical
conditions of the wounded; a process currently called a
nine-line MEDEVAC request. Launching the right crews, with
the right equipment, a secure place to land the helicopter,
and the right medical supplies are of the utmost importance
to ensure the greatest possibility of saving the lives of
The crews of
DUSTOFF 62 and DUSTOFF 66 maintained a ready posture to launch at a
second’s notice with their engines running. Air mission commander of
DUSTOFF 62, U.S. Army Capt. Trevor Joseph, soon began to think of
fuel. He knew the aircraft need enough fuel to get to the
battlefield, enough to orbit long enough to allow the helicopter
landing zone (HLZ) to be secured for the medical evacuation, but not
too much that the aircraft could not transport every wounded Soldier
who needed to fly. He thoughtfully and deliberately devised a method
for both aircraft to refuel while maintaining their ready-to-fly
“We were waiting because the friendly forces were so
pinned down in the town and they couldn’t get to any kind of LZ. It
was probably about two hours before we could take off and go,”
“We knew there were about five critical
casualties, all with gunshot wounds,” he added, “we didn’t know any
nationalities, or the disposition of how bad off they were, just
that they were casualties with gunshot wounds.”
“We were just
sitting there ready to go. Everyone was mentally preparing for what
could happen,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Aaron Cruz, pilot-on-controls
for DUSTOFF 62.
“The situation seemed too fluid there and we
could launch at any moment,” Joseph continued. “When we got to about
an hours-worth of gas left on board and nothing had been called for
the ‘nine-line’ to launch, and to make sure we had enough fuel for
whatever station time we might need. We repositioned to hot refuel.”
Only DUSTOFF 62 was able to fully refuel, DUSTOFF 66 had
complications that delayed refueling when the nine-line arrived. The
two aircraft launched with the lead aircraft, DUSTOFF 66, holding
just under a half tank of fuel, according to Joseph.
we repositioned to get fuel, the chase aircraft [DUSTOFF 62] took
Pad 1 and we hooked up to fuel,” according to U.S. Army Spc. Samuel
Perez, DUSTOFF 62 crew chief. “The lead aircraft had a little
trouble when they were coming in to land. So by the time we got the
launch approval, we were fueling up at the time. We just got enough
but because of the delay the other aircraft wasn’t able to get a
En route, Capt. Joseph learned the HLZ was under
intense enemy fire and the ground forces were going to have to
relocate for the MEDEVAC ‘birds’ to land. Joseph ordered his crews
to orbit southeast of the battlefield.
“They were taking so
much fire, we could see it happening. We stayed a few miles off just
waiting for them to call to bring us inbound,” said Joseph.
After about an hour of orbiting, DUSTOFF 66 became fuel critical and
Joseph requested DUSTOFF 67 to launch. Upon their inflight linkup,
DUSTOFF 66 returned to base. This predicated a lead aircraft change,
according to Joseph. Air mission commander Capt. Joseph and DUSTOFF
62, fully abreast of the developing situation, assumed lead. DUSTOFF
67 assumed the ‘chase’ supporting role.
The teams were then
notified the new HLZ was more challenging and would only allow one
aircraft to land.
DUSTOFF 62, piloted by Lt. Cruz,
immediately turned inbound and flew at maximum aircraft power to the
new HLZ. DUSTOFF 67 remained in an orbit nearby.
“I’m on the
controls. I pull in as much power as the aircraft will give me,”
said Cruz. “I nosed it over and we head straight for the LZ. Short
final, Capt. Joseph calls for the ISR platform (Intelligence,
Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) to ‘sparkle’ the LZ.”
notice the IR [Infrared] in a small, open field,” Cruz continued. “I
line the aircraft up and we are getting ready to land when Capt.
Joseph notices the ground forces IR laser at a different location.”
“When we were coming in I noticed we were getting signaled by
the actual ground unit in a different location than the aerial
markings,” noted Joseph. “I went ahead and took the controls because
it was out my side of the doors that I noticed them and went ahead
and executed the landing into that confined, dusty LZ.”
the aircraft descended, the rotor wash stirred heavy dust all about
the landing zone. Perez continuously watched and relayed critical
information to pilots Joseph and Cruz. This HLZ was not optimal –
later they would describe it as a ‘non-standard LZ’ that contained
just enough space for a helicopter to land. With Perez’s eyes and
relayed information, Joseph affected the necessary adjustments to
land within 10 meters of the casualties.
“The way they picked
it, it was a good field for us, but it had some walls in it…these
two-foot walls like you see in their farms that separate their
fields and there were some houses,” explained Joseph. “There was no
way could have gotten two aircraft in there. We would have been
separated, one would have had to land way back from where we
“Me and Sgt. Lott, in the back, are talking about
our plan once we get down,” continued Perez. “I’m going to throw
open the right door. He’ll get out and triage the patients, who’s
going to get on first, how we’re going to load them, and then what
we are each going to do once the patients are on board.”
Within 30 seconds after landing, DUSTOFF 62 and its crew came under
direct enemy fire from a building and a nearby tree line. The Joint
Tactical Air Controller attempted to contact DUSTOFF 62 several
times to advise them to depart the HLZ due to the amount of enemy
fire coming from multiple locations across the battle space.
Trevor Joseph and Aaron Cruz remained as calm and collected as
possible and continuously called out observed enemy locations and
relayed orders to the other crew members; Perez and flight
paramedic, U.S. Army Sgt. Loran Lott.
touchdown, Sgt. Lott and Spc. Perez had exited the aircraft – Lott
moving directly to the casualty collection point, Perez establishing
ground security for Lott and the aircraft.
“I got off with my
rifle. I was there to protect Sgt. Lott. He did not take his M4 with
him so he could pick up the patients and get them on as quickly as
possible and not have to worry about his weapon being in the way or
possibly hurting the patients even more,” said Perez.
is our security and kind of crowd control. He moves back and forth
from pilot’s window to the door on the side I’m on,” said Lott.
“He’s essentially there to watch my back and make sure nothing bad
happens to me.”
“I was constantly scanning to make sure
everything was alright; that nothing happened to Sgt. Lott or the
aircraft,” recalled Perez. “One of the pilots has to be on the
controls, one has to be on the radios, and both are scanning for
trouble too. While we are on the ground, we are a big target to
Lott immediately conferred with the ground medics to
determine the most severely wounded and who must be loaded first.
“I used their professional opinion as medics to give me the ones
that they knew we could at least have a chance to save. That weren’t
already expired,” said Lott, “…and we did.”
The landing zone
became chaotic and confused, as some Afghan Soldiers mistook the
arriving aircraft as a mission to relocate them from the death and
destruction that surrounded them. Perez and other ground force
Soldiers had to forcibly maintain order and clear the way for the
most severely wounded to be loaded onto the aircraft.
was getting off, people were running past me. I had never been in a
situation like that.” said Lott. “I didn’t think twice about it. I
just thought it was more security.”
There was no lull in the
enemy fire landing around DUSTOFF 62 and this effort to save lives.
“We could see tracer rounds from the tree line at our 12
o’clock. We could see tracer rounds from a building at our 1
o’clock. We could see rounds kicking up, probably about 10 meters
off our disk [the diameter of the spinning rotor],” said Cruz.
“It was pretty hectic. I didn’t have ‘comms’ with Sgt. Lott. We
couldn’t communicate on which patients to let on, and which patients
to not,” said Perez.
“We had complications with the first
litter. They put him on an ‘alan’ litter and it collapsed,” said
Lott, “they were having issues getting it in, but we got it in.”
“As we were cleared to come in, because they weren’t under fire
at the time, and because it was only big enough for one -- our lead
aircraft was to come in and take the two critical patients and have
the chase aircraft come in after we had taken off and take the
ambulatory,” explained Joseph.
“But when we went in and were
under fire, that’s when we all made the call to load up with as many
as we could.”
The landing zone location had been picked for
this location because the friendly ground forces had become
combat-ineffective, couldn’t maneuver, because they had some many
casualties, according to Joseph.
“That’s really what was
going through mine and Lieutenant Cruz’s head. Get as many folks as
we could, so they [the remaining ground forces] could move and ‘exfil’
[exfiltration], because we knew it wasn’t over with us just getting
the wounded out,” said Joseph. “They still had to get out as well.”
Two minutes after landing, Lott, Perez and the ground medic
had loaded two U.S. casualties, four Afghan casualties – Lt. Aaron
Cruz executed the takeoff and performed a series of evasive
maneuvers to avoid accurate enemy machine gun fire that began as the
“Lieutenant Cruz was back on controls and he
kept us low and fast and away from any enemy positions all the way
back to Pamir,” noted Joseph.
“Capt. Joe and I had already
talked about how we were going to exit the LZ while we were on the
ground,” said Cruz. “As soon as they gave us the word in the back, I
pulled in everything the aircraft could give me, a hard bank out to
the left and immediately rounds came from everywhere.”
“Machine gun rounds came under the disk as I was turning left. I
just kept pulling in power, nosing the aircraft over and I flew back
as fast as I could,” Cruz added.
Sgt. Lott, assisted by Spc.
Perez, performed complete patient assessments on all the injured
Soldiers –including blood sweeps to ensure tourniquets were holding,
ensuring all patients had intact airways, and performing continuous
breathing and circulation checks. Sgt. Lott also obtained ‘vitals’
of the most critical patient onboard to ensure he remained stable.
The men of DUSTOFF 62 delivered the injured back to Camp
Pamir. Upon landing, Sgt. Lott accompanied the patient transfer and
assisted the surgical team until the patients were ready for
transfer to awaiting larger medical aircraft en route to full-scale
During this battle, two U.S. Soldiers and
dozens of Afghan Soldiers lost their lives.
In keeping with
the finest traditions of military service, their unselfish
commitment to our fighting forces, and with complete disregard for
their own personal safety, Capt. Trevor P. Joseph, 1st. Lt. Aaron P.
Cruz, Sgt. Loran M. Lott, and Spc. Samuel E. Perez were awarded The
Air Medal with ‘V’ Device for valor.
At a ceremony held here
at the DUSTOFF hangar, Mar. 4, 2017, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott
A. Howell, NATO Special Operations Component Command – Afghanistan
commander, presented their awards. Former Afghanistan Minister of
Defence, the Honorable Bismullah K. Muhammadi, and Resolute Support
Mission Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, U.S. Army Maj. Gen.
Christopher K. Haas, arrived from Kabul to attend.
DUSTOFF 62 crew are members of the C Company, 2nd General Support
Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment (2-1 GSAB), 1st Combat
Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, “The Fighting Eagles”,
based at Fort Riley, Kansas. C Company is also known as ‘Boomer
DUSTOFF’ that traces its lineage back to the 57th Medical Detachment
(Helicopter Ambulance) and U.S. Army Maj. Charles L. Kelly, who lost
his life in Vietnam in 1964 trying to evacuate a wounded U.S.
advisor and several wounded Vietnam Army Soldiers. Kelly is
considered by many to be a founding father of modern helicopter
March 4, 2017 – The Air Medal with ‘V’ Device award ceremony for
four aviation crew members at the U.S. Forces Afghanistan DUSTOFF
hangar here at Bagram. The team from C Company, 2nd General Support
Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment were recognized for their
heroic actions during a Nov. 3, 2016 helicopter medical evacuation
of wounded U.S. and Afghanistan Soldiers pinned down by enemy fire
in Kunduz Province. U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott A. Howell, NATO
Special Operations Component Command – Afghanistan commander,
presented the medals and spoke at the event. He can be seen to the
right of the assembled award recipients. Recognized for valor are,
from left, U.S. Army Capt. Trevor P. Joseph, 1st Lt. Aaron P. Cruz,
Sgt. Loran M. Lott, and Spc. Samuel E. Perez. (Photo by
Harrison, U.S. Forces Afghanistan Public Affairs)
“This is a significant event. The award itself is
significant,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jake Dlugosz
[pronounced ‘Due-Giss’], commander, 2-1 GSAB, “To be
recognized for valor, for heroic action. It’s an award that
doesn’t happen often.”
“These guys were in the right
place at the right time to save lives…and they did.”
“It’s a really proud day for the Fighting Eagles and for
Boomer Dustoff, a company with a history that goes back to
Vietnam,” he continued. “I am very proud of this team and
very proud of this organization.”
“I’m honored and
humbled to be part of such an amazing organization that has
amazing Soldiers like this,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt.
Maj. Dwight Evans, 2-1 GSAB command sergeant major.
“Soldiers that can go out there each and every day and the
in the face of adversity can just continue to do their
mission with no regard for their own safety or their own
“It is extremely humbling to be recognized
like this,” said Capt Joseph. “There were three other
MEDEVAC crews that were up there that I know would have done
the same exact thing.”
“It is a great honor to be
recognized for this,” said Lt. Cruz. “There were a lot of
sacrifices that were made that night. I would just like to
honor those that sacrificed everything that night.”
“Being a flight medic here at Bagram and being able to go
and get to those people who need us is very rewarding,”
noted Sgt. Lott. “The most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in
my life to be honest with you.”
“It’s a tremendous
honor, but it’s far from the greatest honor we could get,”
reflected Spc. Perez. “The greatest honor is to be called a
hero like the Soldiers that lost their lives. They are the
ones that gave their all, literally mind, body, and soul.
They are the heroes that night, we try to prevent them from
giving that all.”
Combat medics are often referred
to as ‘angels on the battlefield.’ Aerial medical evacuation
lends those angels their wings.
More than fifty years ago in Vietnam, Maj. Kelly was said to have
uttered this phrase moments before succumbing to the bullet that
ended his life while attempting to save lives on the battlefield,
“When I have your wounded…”
These Soldiers of Boomer DUSTOFF
continue that finest tradition – Dedicated, Unhesitating Support To
Our Fighting Forces – D.U.S.T.O.F.F.
By Robert Harrison, U.S. Forces Afghanistan Public Affairs
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