By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
For the first time, the Kentucky National Guard Joint Readiness Center in London was used to perform aviation training exercises for two medevac units this week. The units perform the exercise once a year and are expected to mobilize to Kuwait in 2013 for 24-hour support.
“This has been a very accommodating, great facility in London. They were very supportive of getting us down here and gives us the opportunity to operate outside of Frankfort, where we normally operate,” said Capt. Jimmy Caniff, detachment commander.
Three UH60 Black Hawk helicopters took flight to and from the facility daily, while 31 members of the unit were trained from pilots, crew chiefs, mechanics, flight medics, flight operation specialists, and re-fuelers.
The units perform various aviation exercises throughout the year and provide support for forest fires, flood relief, earthquakes, ice storms and hurricanes. A UH60 Black Hawk has the ability to fly 12,000 feet, and carry 600 pounds at the end a 200-foot line hoist for patients. The units that were visiting London are fairly new, Capt. Caniff said. They are five years old and were deployed to Kosovo in 2011 for assistance.
“We provided support in-country for a lot of training exercises so people there were able to provide support at all times. There were a handful of accidents we had out there. They were life saving missions that got people to a higher level of care. That’s our primary mission,” Capt. Caniff said.
This week, the helicopters crew were given multiple challenging scenarios, traveling to various locations in southeastern Kentucky to find simulated patients using maps and radioed direction and landing at a handful of airports in eastern Kentucky. The first stop for this unit on Tuesday afternoon was the Disney Training Center in Artemus, Ky.
Crew Chief Mike Powers said, while out in the field, the unit really has to focus from thousands of feet up in the air because patients may or may not be where they originally say they are. In addition, there’s a multitude of equipment inside the helicopter because they never really know what type of situation they will run into.
“The atmosphere is anxious and focused,” Powers said.
Located inside the helicopter are heart monitors and a large modular pan for bodies to lay on, rescue gear, flight gear and helmets. There’s one medic in the back of the helicopters, trying to sustain life, while up front in the cockpit three crew members are communicating with units on the ground, air and between themselves.
“It’s a bit cumbersome with all of your gear on to come in here and slide them (patients) into the pan,” Powers said, adding, “Every situation is different, you may have to put a person on a pan, drop and reconfigure when you’re in the air. It’s a little unnerving when you’re on the edge (of the helicopter).”
“It’s a small office out here,” said Steve Clark, a crew medic.
Following a 300-foot hoist drop for practice, the helicopters took flight for their life saving missions. Patients were picked up at various locations and taken back to the London facility for “treatment.”
“This is probably one of the most well trained medevac units around. I don’t think a lot of people in Kentucky realize the kind of asset that they have here,” Capt. Caniff said.
The Kentucky National Guard Joint Readiness Center has about 30 to 100 Guard personnel working year-round, and will be used in the future for similar exercises as the one that took place this week to provide support for Kentucky National Guard headquarters in Frankfort, Ky.
For more information about the Guard, visit www.nationalguard.com.