Training pays off for stranded Fort Polk Soldier

The following is a news release from the Fort Polk Public Affairs Office:

FORT POLK, La. — Fort Polk Directorate of Emergency Services, military police and the United States Army Air Ambulance Detachment (Cajun Dust Off), 5th Aviation Battalion put their medical evacuation training to the test, conducting a live hoist medevac mission early in the morning March 21.

More than 10 inches of heavy rain struck Fort Polk March 20-21 causing severe flooding in some areas. A Soldier was attempting to cross a flooded road in an HMWVV on his way to the Joint Readiness Training Center training area when his vehicle was caught in the water. The Fort Polk firefighters were dispatched to the site to find the vehicle more than two-thirds covered, with water over the hood and bed of the vehicle, said Chief Michael Kuk, Fort Polk DES.

"We were out there on scene right after we got the call and immediately identified how he needed to be rescued. We lit up both sides of the crossing and coordinated with Dust Off to get a hoist," Kuk said. "Water was pushing the vehicle with a current of about five miles per hour and was chest-high."

Fort Polk DES had their water rescue teams on standby in case the medevac couldn't launch due to the weather.

"The 911 dispatch contacted our dispatch and told us about a guy stranded on a vehicle. The firefighters wanted us on standby, so we prepped ourselves and waited," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daron Hankins, the pilot for Cajun Dust Off.

"The fire department called for a hoist, giving us the grid (location) of the incident. The weather was still dangerous, but the battalion commander (Lt. Col. Christopher Speer) approved the mission," said Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Dippel, the medic for the USAAAD.

"We opened the doors to the helicopter and I was lowered onto the truck. The crew chief and pilot had to be precise to drop me accurately. If it was too far to either side (of the vehicle), I would be in the water."

The crew chief's job is important for the safety of the medic being lowered, Dippel said. The crew chief's job is to "assist the medic and be the hoist operator," said Spc. Olin Sparks, the crew chief for USAAAD. "I'm responsible for getting (the medic where he needs to be) and telling the pilot what's going on because he can't see (below him)."

Once Dippel was lowered onto the HMWVV and his cable was hoisted back up the aircraft, the pilot circled around until Dippel asked for a pick-up. "The first thing I did was hook up the patient. He looked very happy to see me since he was cold and stranded," Dippel said.

Dippel then called for the pilot to return to do the hoist.

The pilot hovered 100 feet above the ground to hoist Dippel and the Soldier at the same time. Once the patient was safely inside the aircraft, he was put on a litter to be treated. "We covered him with blankets and turned up the heat. We wanted to treat him for hypothermia and then we took him to (Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital)," Dippel said.

The mission posed some difficulty for the USAAAD because of the weather. "It was the most challenging call I've had in my career. There was heavy rain and about two miles of visibility," Hankins said.

The 5th Aviation Bn's training, however, assisted in a successful operation.

"I was very impressed with our guys. We trained over and over in similar instances for this mission. It was our first real-world hoist in more than two years," Hankins said.

Joint training with Fort Polk's DES "in a hoist extraction was vital to the success of this mission," Speer said. "The challenge was the weather, but our crew felt comfortable doing the mission."

Kuk said he felt the mission was a great cooperation between the USAAAD and DES. "How we train worked out perfectly in real life," he said.

"We train for this all the time, but you don't really expect it to happen. I treated this like a training mission, but also knew someone's life was on the line. I paid attention to what I needed to do for the medic and the pilot," Sparks said. "Missions like this are the reason we train. You never know when you'll need it."