Mountain Medic

On August 3rd, Golf Company, 7-158th General Support Aviation Battalion, descended upon Fort Carson, Colorado, in UH-60L Blackhawks to participate in a month-long training exercise, dubbed ‘Mountain Medic’.

Several other 7-158th GSAB companies participated, to include: Bravo, Charlie, and Delta. The exercise also included the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the 148th Military Police Detachment. This kind of multi-unit training allows for multiple stressors during realistic training scenarios while reinforcing Army Warrior Training.

The purpose of Mountain Medic was to conduct High Altitude Mountain Environmental Training Strategy and multiple complex MEDEVAC scenarios.

The rugged terrain surrounding Fort Carson offers a wide array of training opportunities, some of which are at high altitudes near Cheyenne Mountain.

The altitude at Butts Army Airfield at Fort Carson is shy of 6000 feet – making it a few hundred feet higher than the highest point G/7-158th typically trains at. This point is also over 5,800 feet higher than Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California, the company’s headquarters, which sits at a mere 32 feet above sea level. 

Landing Zones such as Frosty (10,320′) and Almagre (12,222′) sit above the 10k’ mark. Therefore, they have different power management requirements and multi-ship landing and takeoff techniques than what G/7-158th typically conducts.

High Altitude Mountain Environmental Training Strategy is a vital exercise requirement for rotary-wing aviation units who have the potential to deploy to areas with higher elevations, such as Afghanistan. Aircraft performance and available power is limited up at higher altitudes, so training in the challenging mountainous landscape around Fort Carson helped build confidence in the aircrews to be able to conduct aviation operations in this type of terrain safely.

Once HAMETS was completed, C/7-158th, who led the exercise, placed G/7-158th through multiple day and night MEDEVAC scenarios with varying levels of difficulty for the pilots, flight medics, crew chiefs, and the command teams. The scenarios were distributed to the individual forward operating bases and started with routine MEDEVAC pickups and mild injuries. The pace quickly increased in complexity as Mountain Medic progressed. MEDEVAC support calls came well after darkness fell and required low-level flying to and from the point of injury. During night missions, the pilots utilized night vision goggles and made quick decisions to the ever-changing battlefield and mission requirements.

Simulated injuries became more severe, the number of patients increased, and instead of landing to pick up patients, hoist operations became a requirement. Hoist operations take complete crew coordination between the pilots, the crew chief who is operating the hoist, and the medics who are riding the hoist. Constant verbal commands are relayed to the pilot from the crew chief to help maintain a stable aircraft hover, which can be challenging during high winds.

Once the crew chief ensured the patients and medics were secured to the aircraft, the pilots then proceeded to the nearest Role 2 medical facility for further care. While the pilots were busy flying the Blackhawks just above treetop level under NVGs, the crew chiefs continued to scan their sector for obstacles and possible enemy along the flight path. The flight medics were always busy in the cabin stabilizing their patients, reassessing their injuries, and radioing the next Role 2 facility to prepare them for the inbound patients prior to their arrival. When needed, the medics would sometimes request that the crew chief turn their attention inside the cabin and assist in minor medical tasks.

The flight medics in 7-158th are second to none. Most are paramedics or nurses in the civilian world and bring a wealth of experience with them. The skill and high proficiency levels they demonstrated were phenomenal and noted at all levels of the internal command and other participating commands.

The culmination exercise for Mountain Medic included a mass casualty event, which consisted of observing the 10th SFG(A) secure a small village that had just been ‘attacked’.

After the medics with the operational detachment alpha sorted the injured, the ODA called G/7-158th to pick up the severely wounded for immediate transport.

Four UH-60Ls appeared over the horizon and swooped down low over the mock village in preparation for extract of those in the direst need. Two by two the helicopters landed in the courtyard and G/7-158th medics jumped into action.

After the ODA and medics established which casualties required immediate lift, the two “hawks” were simultaneously loaded with patients. Mere moments after lifting off, the next two dashed in from their holding positions and touched down to extract more. Once G/7-158th cleared the area, a CH-47F Chinook was requested from B/7-158th to extract over 30 wounded and those with less severe injuries.

A curveball came as severe thunderstorms moved in and cut off G/7-158th from returning for more patients. The company quickly coordinated with C/7-158th, who happened to be closer to the village to pick up the remaining patients with a pair of HH-60M Blackhawks. 

Fortunately, C/7-158th was able to depart in a direction that would keep them away from the approaching storms and still get the wounded to the Role 2 facility.

Once the operation was completed, I hitched a ride on one of the Chinooks back to base with the remaining ODA Soldiers. The mission was a success, as was the overall training.

During the after-action review, the battalion discussed several topics to analyze, such as what was supposed to happen versus what did not happen, and what actions to sustain and improve. Section subject matter experts shared previous training mistakes and corrective actions were shared. Overall, many lessons were learned by all. 

The Soldiers of G/7-158th did an exceptional job and adapted and overcame everything that was thrown their way. Everyone-from the air crews, flight operators, maintenance and supply personnel, to the command teams – was part of a total team effort.

I am very proud to be a member of the G/7-158th family.

I want to thank Maj. Linda Gerron and Sgt. Alexander Morgan, the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade public affairs team, for their help in covering this event while also conducting my own training as a crew chief and sharing my photography across the U.S. Army Reserve Command.

I’d also like to thank Charlie Company for the excellent training they put together during this exercise. We took a lot away from this event and they were at the center of why we did.

And last but not least, I’d like to extend a special thank you to my leadership: Capt. Kyle Kettinger, Capt. Amy Caldwell, 1st Lt Michael St. Germain, and Sgt 1st Class Craig Chase, for allowing me the time during our training to tell the story of our Soldiers  and the critical part they play in saving lives; but most of all, for telling the story of Golf Company.

Steve Lewis

Steve is a Southern California based photographer living in the Los Angeles area.

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