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Feature Stories

NEWS | April 16, 2021

Flight medics describe chaos after rocket attack

By Capt. Travis Mueller

After February’s rocket attack on Erbil Air Base that killed one civilian contractor, injured several members of the Coalition and later killed one civilian, medevac Soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade responded immediately to evacuate the wounded.

The rockets landed near a contractor living area and casualties were taken by bystanders to a "role 2" hospital on the base. The medical personnel there eventually stabilized them but needed to get them to a "role 3" hospital, with more capabilities, for further lifesaving measures.

Sgt. Eric Smith, one of the flight medics, said his crew arrived at the role 2 hospital as the patients were brought out of the operating room.

“We received reports from the teams that had been taking care of them up until that point, and then we conducted our own assessments,” said Smith. “We applied our equipment and then prepared the patients for movement out to the helicopters.”

The medical teams on the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were Capt. Alexandra Barikian and Sgt. 1st Class Brian Collins on one and Spc. Donna Wauthier and Smith on the other. Collins and Wauthier were the lead medical providers on their respective helicopters as they transported patients to a role 3 hospital at another base.

While en route, the crews continued to manage their patients’ complex medical issues.

“Both were considered critical care patients, as they were intubated, on ventilators and required several medications and procedures to keep them stable throughout the flight,” said Smith. “By the time we arrived, we had improved our patient’s condition from when we picked him up.”

Wauthier has worked in civilian medevac and critical care transport for over 10 years and says her experience helps with her knowledge base and comfort operating in these situations.

“There are big operational differences between the two medevac worlds, but the fundamental patient care is still very similar,” said Wauthier. “I’ve become comfortable with managing medical and trauma patients that require advanced airway management, as well as ventilator support, along with the types of interventions and medications that typically entails.”

Although this was a real attack with real casualties, they say it was fulfilling to help how they could.

“Here was a patient who was pretty bad off, and we had a positive impact on his outcome,” said Smith. “None of us want bad things to happen to people, but we are glad that we can be there to help them when they do.”

Smith, Wauthier, Collins and Barikian are deployed with Charlie Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, 28th ECAB.