Apache Pilots Save Critically-Wounded Soldier with Unorthodox Evacuation

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq (Army News Service, July 25, 2007) - Two pilots flying their last combat mission risked their lives in an unorthodox casualty evacuation to transport a critically-wounded Soldier in Ramadi June 30.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kevin Purtee and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Allen Crist, from Company B, 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment (Attack), 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, delivered the Soldier of Company A, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, to prompt medical care. The Soldier had been shot in the face and the arm during a battle near Donkey Island.

When the pilots learned that more than 40 minutes had elapsed since the ground unit had called for the medical evacuation, Chief Purtee, pilot, asked Chief Crist if he felt comfortable giving up his seat for the critically wounded Soldier.

"Absolutely," Chief Crist answered as Chief Purtee explained to his partner that it would mean flying to the hospital on the wing of the aircraft.

Chief Crist and three other infantrymen lifted the wounded Soldier up into the Apache's front seat. "He was bandaged up, and blood was all over him," said Chief Crist, who strapped in the Soldier.

Chief Crist then went to the left side of the Apache and ran a tether to the aircraft and hooked it to his air warrior vest. Sitting on the small wing with his feet on a narrow walkway lining the fuselage, the chief then knocked on the window to let Chief Purtee know he was ready for the flight.

“We were leaving a very dangerous area," Chief Purtee said. "It wasn't a long flight, but it felt like it took forever."

Chief Crist said flying outside the aircraft was similar to "sitting in the back of a truck going down the highway." Reaching the medical pad, Chief Crist stayed with the wounded Soldier while medical personnel waited for the ambulance to move him to the hospital.

"I eventually had to get a guy at the pad to talk to him," Chief Crist recounted. "I knew we were going to go back out to the battle in Ramadi, and I wanted to keep my head right."

Once the wounded Soldier had been safely removed from of the aircraft, the pilots climbed back in and flew back to the battle.

The next day, the crew found out that the Soldier had been moved to the hospital at LSA Anaconda, and they decided to visit him. His jaw had been wired shut, but medical staff gave him a pad to write on.

"Thank you," he wrote. "Sorry for messing up your helicopter."

The pilots learned the Soldier wanted to be a helicopter pilot and was planning to take the aviator test in a couple of weeks.

"We did a little recruiting to get him to join the Texas Army National Guard," Chief Purtee said. They gave him a Company B flight patch and took some photos.

Having a wounded Soldier in the cockpit while the copilot rides on the outside of the aircraft is unorthodox, but Chief Purtee said he would rather do that than watch another Soldier on the ground die.

"We have seen the tragedy of watching Soldiers on the ground waiting for MEDEVAC," he said. "There is no more hopeless feeling than watching the guys who need help not get it, and I'm tired of that, and that's why we made our choice to go in and do what we did."

(Staff Sgt. Lorin T. Smith writes for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs.)