COMPILED BY THE KNOWLEDGE STAFF
There I was, a brand new warrant officer Black Hawk pilot flying combat missions in Iraq, paired with one of the more experienced pilots in command in our company. Our mission was to fly the 101st Airborne Division’s assistant division commander for operations from Combat Operating Base Speicher to Forward Operating Base Warhorse for a meeting. As we flew past one of the smaller FOBs near Warhorse, we received a frantic call for help over the common frequency.
The message was clear: A critically wounded Soldier at the FOB needed immediate evacuation or he would die. We circled back around to the FOB and discussed the situation with the general. He gave us the go-ahead to land, assess the situation and determine whether we could help.
We landed, made contact with the ground unit and learned the Soldier was near their motor pool, bleeding out. Soldiers tending to the injured Soldier were afraid he’d die soon, so they requested we reposition to the motor pool area and assured us there was ample room to land. We asked if the medevac had been called and were told it may or may not be on the way, but if we delayed, the Soldier would die.
We attempted to reposition the aircraft while Chalk 2 remained at the landing pad. We quickly realized that landing in the motor pool wasn’t feasible because there were numerous wires and other hazards. We returned to the landing pad and informed the ground unit that the only option was to bring the casualty to us.
As they were moving him to our location, we got further details about the accident from other Soldiers. They said they were rearranging the shipping containers in their motor pool with the help of some sort of crane. The injured Soldier, a 19-year-old private, was tasked with attaching chains, which were hanging from the crane, to the top of the containers. Instead of climbing down from the container after hooking it up, he decided it would be easier to ride along on top of it to the destination.
As the load was lifted, one of the chains snapped and struck the Soldier in the throat with enough force to literally rip it out. None of us could believe what we heard. It was then that we saw the litter being carried out of the front gate to the landing pad. It looked like someone had taken a bucket of blood and threw it on the Soldier they were carrying. The Soldiers were doing their best to staunch the flow, but the blood continued to pump out of this young Soldier and onto the ground.
As they got closer to the pad, we received a radio call that the medevac had arrived with a doctor and that we needed to move out of their way. There was no time to explain to the ground guys, but we had to take off. I will never forget the expressions on their faces as we left. They thought we were leaving without him and didn’t yet realize the medevac was on short final. That private died on the way to the hospital, the victim of complacency. I do not know if someone was punished for the accident, but the war went on and so did we.
Fast forward a year and a half. I was now an experienced CW2 PC in Afghanistan. I was walking out of our company office at Bagram Airbase, finally done with a long day. Across the road from our office was a line of shipping containers with all of our equipment, with Soldiers preparing to move them with chains hanging off a crane. I noticed a Soldier had just hooked up the chains and stepped onto the adjacent container instead of climbing down. A chill went up my spine. I could not believe this was about to happen again!
I dropped my flight gear and ran toward the crane waving my arms and yelling for them to stop. They shut off the equipment and I told the Soldier to climb down and made them stand there as I told them what I had seen in Iraq. The Soldier who was up on top visibly paled as I described the young private’s fate. From then on, they made sure no one was up top when weight was on the chains and moved the containers without incident.
I don’t know how many Soldiers are killed in the name of expediency or convenience, but I do know one who was and one who wasn’t. Which will you be?