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News | Feb. 27, 2012

Spearhead aircrews play key role in rescue mission of stranded AUP personnel

By Staff Sgt. Joe Armas , 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs

GHOR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (February 27, 2012) — Soldiers from Task Force Spearhead, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, teamed up with coalition special operations forces to conduct a search and rescue mission near the village of Cabalaq, Feb. 22.

Initial reports indicated that roughly a dozen Afghan Uniformed Policemen had been trapped there as a result of an avalanche. When the mission to rescue the policemen was briefed, the soldiers from TF Spearhead had to deviate from their initial plans that evening.

“We were postured for another mission when we got word that the policemen were trapped,” said Maj. Bryan Woodcock, from Cheyenne, Wyo., the operations officer for TF Spearhead, 1st ACB.

“The determination was made that the best option was to switch gears and use what resources we had available for the rescue mission,” he added.

Woodcock said the mission presented numerous challenges; two of them being lack of communication with the stranded personnel and the extreme weather conditions that awaited the aircrews at the landing zones in the vicinity of Cabalaq.

“This was unlike any other mission I had flown in before,” added Woodcock.

Flying the rescue team members into an area at 10,000 feet altitude combined with the extreme weather conditions required thorough mission planning, he said.

The crews had little time to prepare since quick mission execution was required.

“They [the policemen] had already lost one person and we couldn’t let them lose anymore, so we had to get out there as fast as we could,” said Spc. Daniel Cox, originally from Houston, and one of the crew chiefs who took part in the mission.

The actual insertion and extraction of personnel from the aircraft provided another challenging task for the aircrews, added Cox, who is assigned to Company C, TF Spearhead, 1st ACB.

Woodcock added, “We landed on about four to five feet of snow at the landing zone. The aircraft was essentially at a hover as we were loading and unloading people so we could avoid sinking the helicopter into the snow.”

Cox said the aircrews had to get the rescue team personnel as close to the village as possible to facilitate their efforts to retrieve the stranded personnel. 

As the aircraft made the initial landing near the village, a cloud of snow engulfed the area causing what is referred to as a “whiteout” that limited visibility and made it more complicated to keep the aircraft from sinking.

The rescue team exited the aircrafts and proceeded to retrieve the stranded policemen in the village. 

Once the rescue team members retrieved the stranded personnel, the aircrews returned to transport those who were stranded to a medical facility nearby. As the personnel approached the aircraft for extraction, Cox, along with other crew members and rescue team personnel, helped load the passengers on board. 

“We had to literally pull the passengers up into the aircraft since the snow was so deep,” added Cox. 

In total, nine Afghan policemen and two Afghan women were rescued. They all predictably seemed relieved as they departed the aircraft near the medical facility, said Cox.

Woodcock said completing a successful mission like this has big picture implications.

“You’re doing a lot of things out here and you don’t always see the immediate impact of what you accomplish,” said Woodcock. “I think something like this goes a long way to show that we are committed to helping the Afghan people, and that is the ultimate intent of our country.”