22 photos inside 'Dustoff' — the Army's life-saving medevac crews

Army soldiers count on the elite medics assigned to air ambulance crews to pull them out of combat when they are wounded. These crews, called, “Dustoff,” fly unarmed choppers into combat and provide medical care to patients en route to US field hospitals. This air medical evacuation saves lives and bolsters the confidence of soldiers in the field.

Blackhawk helicopter in Dustoff MEDEVAC operations lowers hoist from Medic to casualty

Photo: US Army Sgt. Travis Zielinski

When the terrain is too rough for even a helicopter to land, hoists are used to lower medics or raise patients.

Blackhawk Dustoff Medic conducts Hoist operations in the Helicopter

Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Rasheen A. Douglas

US Army Dustoff crews typically consist of a pilot, copilot, flight medic, and crew chief. Some teams, especially those on the newer UH-72A aircraft, will have a firefighter/paramedic in place of the crew chief unless a hoist operation is expected.

Blackhawk pilot checks control panel in preparation for MEDEVACS as a Dustoff bird

Photo: Department of Defense

Flight medics will train other soldiers on how to properly transfer patients to a medevac helicopter.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Ashley Moreno US Army medical personnel carry a simulated patient to a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during an aeromedical evacuation training exercise at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., June 19, 2012, in support of GLOBAL MEDIC 2012 and Warrior 91 12-01. GLOBAL MEDIC is a joint field training exercise for theater aeromedical evacuation systems and ground medical components designed to replicate all aspects of combat medical service support.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Ashley Moreno

When possible, the crew chief or flight medic will leave the bird to approach the patient, taking over care and supervising the move to the chopper.

A US Army soldier moves to MEDEVAC a simulated casualty during a military exercise testing the Dustoff crew's capability.

Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashley Reed

This training is sometimes done with foreign militaries to ensure that, should the need arise in combat, the US and other militaries will be able to move patients together. Here, Republic of Korea soldiers train with US medics.

Republic of Korea and US Army medics MEDEVAC a simulated casualty on a Dustoff blackhawk helicopter.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lou Rosales

Medics going down on a hoist are supported by the crew chief, an aviation soldier who maintains the aircraft and specializes in the equipment on the bird.

A US Army medic assigned to a dust off crew dangles from a hoist on a MEDEVAC blackhawk helicopter.

Photo: US Army National Guard Sgt. Harley Jelis

Of course, not all injuries happen during calm weather in sunny climes. Medevac soldiers train to perform their job in harsh weather.

Dustoff blackhawk lands in the snow on helicopter skis.

Photo: U.S. Army

The crews also train to rescue wounded soldiers at any hour, day or night.

US Army and US Navy personnel MEDEVAC a simulated casualty. Dustoff blackhawk helicopters will fly the casualty to military medical care providers.

Photo: Department of Defense

Some medevac pilots even train to land on ships for when that is the closest or best equipped hospital to treat a patient.

MEDEVAC bird, Dustoff, Casualty evacuation

Photo: Department of Defense

Dustoff crews also care for service members who aren’t human. The most common of these patients are the military working dogs.

Dustoff medic attaches military working dog and handler to a MEDEVAC blackhawk's hoist.

Photo: US Army

The Dustoff helicopters are launched when a “nine line” is called. When this specially formatted radio call goes out, medevac crews sprint to ready the choppers and take off.

A US Army soldier rushes to prep Dustoff birds to take off on a medical evacuation mission.

Photo: US Marine Corps

The medevac is eagerly awaited by the troops on the ground who request it.

Simulated casualty Dustoff Medevac helicopter afghanistan

Photo: US Navy HMC Josh Ives

The flight medics can provide a lot of care even as they move a casualty in the air. Most patients will get a saline lock or an intravenous drip to replace fluids.

Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Paul Peterson US Army Spc. Ryan Waller, a flight medic with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, inserts an intravenous line into a wounded Afghan soldier's arm aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter while flying the patient to Camp Bastion in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 14, 2013. Waller stabilized the patient during the approximately 20-minute flight between Forward Operating Base Delaram II and Camp Bastion.

Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Paul Peterson

Flight medics have to deal with turbulence, loud noises, and possible attacks from the ground while they treat their patients.

Flight medic treats a patient during a dust off mission to medevac injured servicemembers to field hospitals

Photo: US Army

Another challenge flight medics often face is providing treatment in low light or no light conditions.

Medic medical care patient Army Soldier Dustoff

Photo: Department of Defense

No light conditions require the use of NVGs, or night vision goggles.

Army medic NVG night vision medical care Dustoff

Photo: US Army Sgt. Duncan Brennan

Medical evacuation helicopters also face challenges while picking up their patients. The tactical situation can be dangerous where these birds operate.

Marines Afghan soldiers ANA Medevac Dustoff

Photo: Department of Defense

Ground soldiers have to secure the landing zone.

US Army special forces and US Marines secure a helicopter landing zone for a Dust Off blackhawk

Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Justin M. Mason

When the medevac bird returns to the base, the casualty is rushed into the hospital so they can be treated.

US Army medics rush a simulated casualty aboard a MEDEVAC helicopter, Dustoff.

Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

If a soldier’s injuries are severe enough, they’ll be stabilized and prepped again for transport to hospitals outside of the deployment zone.

Medevac Air Force Airmen Soldiers

Photo: Department of Defense

The mission of those under the Dustoff call sign can be challenging, but it provides great comfort to the troops on the ground.

Army Medevac Dustoff crew night flight lights

Photo: Georgian Army National Guard Maj. Will Cox


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