May 10, 2017 —
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Two Wyoming Army National Guard members were awarded the Dustoff Association's Rescue of the Year award in a May 5 ceremony at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Cheyenne. The award was given for a medical evacuation mission in Afghanistan almost two years ago.
On Dec. 4, 2015, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Herget and Staff Sgt. Derrick Perkins loaded a Charlie Company, 5-159th Aviation Regiment, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to respond to friendly forces in southern Afghanistan.
They were part of a four-man crew that would join a second Black Hawk in responding. Herget was a pilot and Perkins a medic.
Both of the men had been deployed for less than a month and about to fly their first medevac mission on this tour. While monitoring a satellite radio, their team leader heard chatter about enemy contact with ground forces about 10 minutes away.
"We heard the chatter on the radio and anticipated we needed to go," Perkins said. Experience kicked in quickly for both Wyoming men.
"They said 'hey we're calling in a nine-line' (medevac request), so we said 'let's go,'" Herget added.
The medevac team operated under a 'golden hour' philosophy, meaning that after the initial injuries are sustained, the next hour is the most critical to the survival of the patient.
Lifting 10 minutes later, the two helicopter crews relayed the number of casualties on the ground; eight casualties and a wounded dog from a handler team. During the flight, as Herget flew the helicopter, Perkins started walking himself through possible scenarios for the wounded. Unsure yet what caused the injuries he prepared for the worst.
"I was going through traumatic scenarios, going through numbers and steps ahead of landing, thinking which casualties would go where," Perkins said.
Later it was learned the casualties had been from the detonation of an improvised explosive device and that the injuries would vary. However, three were urgent care patients, meaning their injuries were severe enough they needed to be evacuated immediately.
While inbound, the medical helicopters had trouble contacting the ground forces. Eventually information was relayed to them that the landing zone was going to be a hot landing zone, meaning enemy combatants were engaged in the area by friendly troops.
"I'd not landed in that hot of an LZ before," Perkins said.
Green smoke was used to mark the LZ, which was inside a building compound that was surrounded by wires.
"As we got closer, we decided a quick, direct approach would be best because there were enemy forces with weapons in the area," Herget said. "Lead (aircraft) announced there were wires as we approached."
"(Wires) were everywhere," Perkins said.
Optimally, crews like to fly over the landing area at least once to get a view or the area, to ensure for a safe landing. This was different.
"Typically we want to take a look at it," Herget said. "But with our guys on the ground, we can and had to land right away."
Another benefit of the direct approach was that it would prevent the enemy on the ground from preparing for the landing and attack the helicopters.
Not wanting to get tangled, Herget's crew brought their aircraft safely into the compound. However, it became apparent that friendly forces were still in an active firefight with enemy forces.
"As soon as we landed, I saw a bunch of enemy combatants on the right side," Herget said. "You could tell they were shooting."
On the ground, Perkins immediately got off onto the ground to link with the friendlies and evaluate the casualties.
"We sent the walking wounded to our aircraft to take," Perkins said. "There were a lot of head injuries." The most serious wounded friendlies went onto the lead aircraft. "We took on five, a dog, and an escort from the ground forces."
The troops on the ground continued their firefight with the enemy while the evacuation was under way. After six minutes on the landing zone, the two aircraft took off, racing for Kandahar Airfield and to a military combat hospital.
"We went directly over bad spots," Perkins said, referring to the 35-minute flight to Kandahar. "We went over areas we get briefed by (intelligence) not to fly over."
"The lead aircraft pulled all the power it had," Herget said.
Touching down at the airfield, the crews helped unload the wounded Soldiers and transfer them to medical personnel.
Still with a job to do, Herget and Perkins went to work resupplying their aircraft and preparing for follow-on missions. Even in the moment of the rescue, there was little time to think about what was just accomplished.
"It was the last thing you think of when you're doing your job," Perkins said. Later, according to medical personnel, had the aircraft arrived later, some of the Soldiers could have succumbed to their injuries.
Now both men have been recognized for their commitment to their duties and courage under fire.
It's an award they earned for responding when they were called.