169th Medevac: 19 soldiers return from nine months in Afghanistan
Sgt. Chris Wareing of Salem, left, and Sgt. First Class Greg Gerbig of Belmont are among 19 members of the N.H. Army National Guard's 169th Medevac Detachment who recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan. (Shawne K. Wickham/Sunday News)
Nineteen soldiers from Fox Company of the New Hampshire Army National Guard's 169th Medevac detachment are back in the Granite State after nine months in Afghanistan. At a "Freedom Salute" ceremony held in Concord Saturday, the state's military and political leaders officially welcomed them home, praising their courage and sacrifice.
"One of the things that was so prevalent in Afghanistan was how good they got at making bombs," he said. "Their effectiveness typically made people into double, triple, even quadruple amputees in that single blast."
"'Is he even alive?' sometimes was a really valid question."
Gerbig, a 39-year-old father of two, said his toughest mission involved an IED explosion that critically injured a 2-year-old boy. The child's uncle had been setting up a roadside bomb as children played nearby.
The child didn't survive despite the best efforts of the American soldiers. Gerbig, a former Marine who had previously deployed to Bosnia and Iraq, said these are the hardest cases to deal with.
In addition to maintaining the aircraft, it's the crew chief's job to make sure the crew stays safe during transport. Gerbig said it was standard operating procedure to use a metal detection wand on anyone who came on board, including patients.
He described a common enemy tactic: "They would intentionally wound either a soldier or civilian; they knew we were going to come pick them up. And they would send somebody with them who was an insurgent who would typically watch out of the window for clues and look at base security."A typical mission meant dropping into an area after a firefight, IED explosion or sniper attack. The crew usually stayed inside the aircraft as those on the ground rushed the casualties on board.
"We've come a long way with saving lives on the battlefield," Gerbig said.
"It's a very well-established trauma rule that from the time of injury to the time you hit the door of the hospital, it has to be less than an hour for the best patient outcomes," Wareing said.
"It's like an expensive lunchbox," Gerbig quipped.
Wareing said one of his toughest cases involved an explosion inside a military truck. Enemy fighters had planted a radio on the side of the road, and the unit had picked it up.
Everyone in the truck was wounded. The commander, a Marine and a Navajo from Arizona did not survive.
"Even if it wasn't my turn on shift, I would follow his aircraft around the country to make sure he was safe," she said.
A civilian hired to empty the portable toilets on base was arrested. "He was getting GPS points on his cellphone for them," Wareing said. "A guy that came into our camp and within five feet of our living quarters every single day, that we talked to every single morning and said hi to...."
It made for uneasy relations, even with those they served alongside."Unfortunately, when you were around Afghan police or army, I don't think anyone really trusted them because a week later, you'd hear some Afghan soldier attacked some U.S. soldiers," Gerbig said. "The same thing with the police; you'd catch the police setting up IEDs.
But when it came to the injured, all got the same high quality of care, even enemy prisoners. And despite the language barrier, Wareing said they all seemed to understand the Americans were trying to help them.
"Providing medicine or care, even to soldiers that don't speak the same language as you, is a very universal sign of caring about people."
Another N.H. National Guard medevac unit, the 238th, is over there now, finishing the mission that the 169th was doing.
"We heard stories of failure and success," he said. "We basically just saw the end of a firefight, but you would hear stories good and bad going on over there.''
The soldiers of the 169th have been home for a couple of months and are happy to be back doing their domestic duties. That includes flying helicopters to assist the Fish and Game Department on search-and-rescue missions or to carry "Bambi" buckets to dump water on forest fires.
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