California and the Global War on Terrorism
126th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) in Afghanistan
 

 
 
Saving Lives
By Major Stan Zezotarski
Headquarters, State Area Command
 
The following article originally appeared in the August 2003 is of The Grizzly

The 126th has perhaps deployed to more state and federal emergencies than any other unit in the California Army National Guard.
 
The 126th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) quickly whisked a soldier, who enemy forces in Afghanistan had shot twice in the hip, from a field crawling with enemy forces to a forward surgical team where the soldier could be treated. The quick response greatly increased the wounded soldier's chances for survival.
 
The next day, a U.S. infantry unit came under enemy fire at a forward operating base. The 126th dashed to the emergency, moving four injured soldiers from the field to forward surgical help. To provide the best medical care possible, four aircraft were launched to support this mission: two HH-60Ls, one UH-60L and one UH-60A. Two HH-60Ls, now in Afghanistan, are the latest variant to the line of Blackhawk helicopters designed for medical evacuation.
 
It was one of 48 medivac missions that the California Army National Guard unit has flown in Afghanistan with the new HH-60L Blackhawk Helicopter. A number of missions also involved Afghan civilians in need of medical help, including children. Sikorsky Aircraft bestowed its first combat rescue awards to crewmen aboard the U.S. Army's new HH-60L medevac helicopter. Sikorsky Winged-S Rescue Awards were given to soldiers in the California Army National Guard's 126th Medical Company based at Bagram.

Because of the many paramedic-friendly features the distinguished bubble-windowed helicopter possesses, it was decided Bagram would be its first deployment location. While the previous model of the Blackhawk, the 126th was using, the UH-60L, allowed crewmembers to carry all the needed equipment onboard, the new HH-60L has many features that make it easier for the paramedics. "These are the first two to be deployed," said Sergeant First Class Gary Volkman, acting First Sergeant of a 24-hour standby paramedic team of 20. "They are holding up quite well, and we're getting used to the nice additions.
 
 
Blackhawks and rescue crewmen at Kandahar base in Afghanistan.
 
New medevac copters deploy to Afghanistan
by Pvt. 2 Terri Rorke
11th Public Affairs Detachment
 
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Army News Servcice, Feb. 24, 2003) - Earlier this month, a California National Guard pilot flew an HH-60L helicopter right off a stateside factory's lot on the first leg of its journey to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
 
The two-month-old helicopter, one of just two HH-60Ls now in Afghanistan, is the latest edition to the line of Blackhawks and is designed specifically for medical evacuation. There are only 12 other helicopters like it.
 
Sgt. 1st Class Gary Volkman of the California National Guard's 126th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), now deployed to Afghanistan, was the pilot that flew the HH-60L from the factory. He said his unit is lucky to have two of these rare Blackhawks. One was only built in November and the other in January.
 
"These are the first two to be deployed," said Volkman, who is the acting first sergeant of a 24-hour standby all-paramedic team of 20.
 
Due to the many paramedic-friendly features the distinguished bubble-nosed helicopter possesses, it was decided Bagram would be its first deployment location.
While the previous model of the Blackhawk the 126th was using, the UH-60L, allowed crewmembers to carry all the needed equipment onboard, the HH-60L has many features that make it easier for the paramedics, Volkman said.
 
The stationary medical interior includes an onboard oxygen-generating system, provisions for medical electronics, a six-litter patient configuration, room for a medic plus another essential individual.
 
Other features include the latest infrared and navigational capabilities, a storm scope and a 290-foot hoist, which travels 350 feet a minute for quick reaction time. The hoist may be needed for various rescues, Volkman explained.
 
"We can lower a medic down into a mine field to pick up an injured person and it is a lot faster than the old internal hoist."
 
These new helicopters are not cheap. "They are roughly 14 million dollars a piece," said Volkman.
 
While only being in Afghanistan a couple of weeks, the medevac helicoptor has already seen a few rescues dealing with land-mine accidents and a couple incidents of kids playing with explosive ordnance.
 
 
An Afghan comforts his 8-year-old daughter as she is flown by HH-60 medevac helicopter to a medical facility. The 126th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) flew to the remote Madr Valley to pick up the girl, who had a burned face and a skull fracture. On the lower litter is a young man who also had a skull fracture. Crew members on the flight were Maj. Bruce Balzano, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Crandall, Staff Sgt. Kelly Hughes and Staff Sgt. Dan Jones. From the July 2003 Mercury, an Army Medical Department publication.
 
 
126th Always Ready To Answer Call For Help
by Pvt. 2 Terri Rorke,
11th Public Affairs Detachment
 
BAGRAM, Afghanistan – A cry for help is all that is needed for a medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopter crew to dispatch to a victim. But to be ready for spontaneous calls, maintaining proficiency of skills and equipment is crucial.
 
Having performed MEDEVACs in a state with the highest point in the continental United States, the California National Guard, 126th Medical Company ( Air Ambulance) is a team used to rescuing victims at high elevations.
 
Because of the location of the company, recently built HH60L Black Hawk helicopters were given to them. The choppers are specifically designed for medical evacuation – the first in the Army.
 
When orders were put on paper for the company to deploy to Afghanistan, they would bring their experience, skills and their choppers specifically designed for MEDEVAC.
 
The company is capable and ready to rescue a victim at any altitude due to its specially designed hoist. Of the two helicopters the company has here, one has an internal hoist and the other has an external hoist.
 
The internal hoist has a 290-foot cable capable of lifting a person at 125 feet a minute, the external has a 290-foot cable capable of lifting a person at 350 feet a minute. Both can lift up to 600 pounds.
 
CH-47 Chinooks have an internal hoist but it is inconvenient compared to the HH60L’s, said, Sgt. 1st Class Gary Volkman, crew chief, 126th.
 
They have a center hole aboard and it’s awkward compared to a specifically designed chopper easily capable of getting victims aboard.
 
“We have more experience with the hoist than the other teams here. People assume we have the same training as everyone else,” said Staff Sgt. Kelly Hughes, crew chief, 126th.
 
“It’s part of our mission back home,” said Hughes.
 
All the other units here pretty much have the same capabilities, but the 24-hour standby all-paramedic team of 20 is used to performing high-altitude rescues. Their equipment, including the hoist, is made to carry out missions in mountainous terrain, added Hughes.
 
Even though the company has been deployed to Bagram for about eight weeks, they have not needed to use their hoist in the 35 MEDEVACs they have completed. But to maintain their skills, the team is required to conduct quarterly hoist training, said Volkman. The company trains more than that – they train whenever they have free time.
 
“Good training” is the reason everyone is highly experienced at using the hoist, said Hughes about the exercises, said Hughes.
And the good training is what keeps the team ready to implement what they learned in garrison for Afghanistan.
 
Army National Guard Aviators Return from Afghanistan
By Maj. Stan Zezotarski
13 August 2003
 
(Sacramento) – They saved several soldiers and countless civilians, sometimes under fire, during their six-month deployment to Afghanistan, now they bring their experience and skills back home to Sacramento.
 
Nearly half the 126th Medical Company returned to Mather Field in Sacramento Sunday, August 10th to the cheers of family’s and friends, media and senior leadership. They left as one of the most deployed units in the California National Guard, now they’ve added nearly 140 successful medevac missions, many under hostile combat conditions, to their impressive resume.
 
Approximately 20 Sacramento and Reno, Nevada-based soldiers and three Black Hawk helicopters loaded into a military C-17 aircraft landed at Mather Field, Rancho Cordova, at 3:00 p.m. Sunday. The remaining 21 soldiers and three helicopters are expected to return the weekend of August 16-17.
 
Sikorsky Aircraft Magazine reported that the unit whisked a soldier who enemy forces in Afghanistan had shot twice in the hip, from a field crawling with enemy forces to a forward surgical team where the soldier could be treated. The quick response greatly increased the wounded soldier's chances for survival.

When a U.S. infantry unit came under enemy fire at a forward operating base, it was the 126th that dashed to the emergency, moving four injured soldiers from the field to forward surgical help. The California Army National Guard unit flew a number of Afghan civilians in need of medical help, including children. Sikorsky Aircraft bestowed its first combat rescue awards to 126th crewmen flying the U.S. Army's new HH-60L medevac helicopter. The 126th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) was based at Bagram, Afghanistan.
 
The 126th flew the HH-60L and UH-60L model Black Hawk helicopters, each equipped with enough oxygen outlets, IV hookups and stretchers to carry six critically wounded soldiers from battlefield to hospital. The 126th also deployed to Desert Storm and Bosnia, and routinely performs missions to assist California in fire fighting.
 
 
 
California National Guard Welcomes Home US Soldiers From Afghanistan
Troops Honored For All Of Their Hard Work And Sacrifices
Christine Umayam, KTXL Channel 40
October 19, 2003
 
RANCHO CORDOVA -- They served our country with dedication, and now the National Guard's 126th Medical Company is back home where they belong.
Staff Sgt. Al Smoot says, "What else can you say, its great."
 
Chief Warrant Ofc. Jeff Crandall says, "Extremely glad to be back home, couldn't be anything better."
 
They served eight months in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
 
They left behind families to face the worst.
 
Staff Sgt. Al Smoot says, "We saw mine victims, gunshot wounds, stabbings."
 
They stand here today in front of family and friends, honored for their hard work.
 
Seargent Glenn Barrows will be honored with the Purple Heart.
 
Sgt. Glenn Barrows says, "The shrapnel metal hit me, basically." The scars on his face show where the shrapnel hit. Sgt Glenn Barrows says his the Purple Heart is good but "it's something that nobody wants to get wounded so its bittersweet in a way."
 
The ceremony not only honored the soldiers but the families they left behind. Several wives were recognized for being the glue that held those families together.
Michelle Crandall, a military wife, led her own army back home by she supporting other families.
 
Michelle Crandall says, "I just wanted to make sure that everybody taken care of and was okay that we all could support each other."
 
During the ceremony, soldiers honored their wives with flowers.
 
Military wife Margot Smoot was pregnant when her husband deployed.
 
Margo Smoot says, "I focused more on the baby so I thought that was a blessing. The pregnancy kept me from worrying so much."
 
From both sides, the soldiers and their families were recognized for a job well done.

Copyright © 2003, KTXL
 
Bittersweet Welcome
Citizen soldiers are glad to be back -- for now
By Kim Minugh -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
October 20, 2003
 
Chief Warrant Officer Four Jeff Crandall and his wife, Michelle, are resigned to the fact that their future is just one piece in a nerve-racking numbers game.
"We're a medevac company. There's a limited number of them," said Jeff Crandall, a member of the California National Guard's 126th Medical Company, based at Mather Field. "We can do the math in our heads."
 
Said Michelle: "I know that it's inevitable they'll continue to deploy. It's just mathematics."
 
The Crandalls joined more than 100 people Sunday at Mather Field to celebrate officially the late-August return of 41 members of the medical company from Afghanistan.

The soldiers, deployed since January, conducted 153 medevac missions -- rescue operations involving risk of life, limb or eyesight loss -- and logged more than 800 hours of flight time.
 
For their work, the unit earned five Bronze Stars, more than 20 Air Medals and several other distinctions.
 
The ceremony was a proud occasion and included medal-pinning, pomp and circumstance and encouraging words from Maj. Gen. Paul D. Monroe Jr., head of the California National Guard.
 
But the hearts of those 41 guardsmen and their families are filled with a more somber -- even sorrowful -- pride. Their enthusiasm has been tempered by the realization that their stay could be short-lived.
 
"It's always the topic of conversation," Jeff Crandall said. "When will we deploy again? Where will we go if we are deployed again?"
 
With Washington officials drawing up plans to deploy more National Guard and Reserve forces and the U.S. commitment in Iraq stretching further into the future, a return voyage is looking ever more likely -- especially for a company as rare and as highly regarded as the 126th Medical Company.
 
There are no more than 700 soldiers or reservists in National Guard air medical companies in the country, said Lt. Col. Terry Knight, a Guard spokesman. Some of that manpower has been deployed.
 
And the 126th Company is well-versed in emergency procedures. Not only do the soldiers provide assistance in state emergencies, but they have served in national efforts and international operations, such as those in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
 
"I'll tell you, they're still on the radar screen," Knight said. "One thing these soldiers should never do is get too comfortable."
 
He said the Army's policy is to avoid deploying anyone for more than 24 months in a six-year period. Although the 41 soldiers of the 126th have completed only seven of those 24 months, Knight said Guard brass will exhaust other resources in the unit before turning to those men and women.
 
He added, however, that "if all heck breaks loose, this unit will go right back out. No question about it."
 
Adding to the company's appeal is the recent addition of two $15 million HH-60 Blackhawk helicopters -- the first fully equipped medical air units. The helicopters are so well-stocked that they rival the most state-of-the-art ambulances.
 
Knight acknowledged that the helicopters could increase the company's chances of being redeployed. "Any time you enhance the resources of a unit like that, their equity goes up, and they're even more on the radar."
 
It's a reality many of the soldiers have accepted.
 
"I'd be very naive and very foolish to think I wouldn't go anywhere again," said Staff Sgt. James Bryson said.
 
As with many other soldiers, his personal reluctance to leave has not overpowered his professional sense of duty.
 
"If the president asked me to go tomorrow, I'd go," he said. "If people ask for help, you've got to give it, no matter the price."
 
That desire to help is complicating a painful situation for many soldiers who find themselves torn between commitments to their family and to their country.
 
"It's always a challenge. There's a part of me that wants to go back -- I really feel like I was making a difference out there," Staff Sgt. Al Smoot said as he patted his 5-week-old son, Alexander, born just weeks after his return. "The other part of me doesn't really want to leave."
 
"The more kids, the harder it gets," added his wife, Margo. The couple also has an 8-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son.
 
In the meantime, soldiers and their families are focusing on two things: the honor in their jobs and the love in their lives.
 
Sgt. Hugo Rivera, who proposed to his fiancee shortly after his return, is preparing for the future by focusing on the importance of his company.
 
"We're very fortunate that we're not in a position to take lives; we save lives," he said.
 
And Michelle Crandall is concentrating on the joy in having her husband home. Jeff might have missed both his own and her 40th birthday, his youngest daughter's 18th birthday and high school graduation and the family's purchase of a new home and new car, but he arrived in time for his oldest daughter's wedding and is home, at least, for now.
 
"We try not to dwell on the future," she said. "We don't want to live our lives always worrying about saying goodbye."
 
 
126th Homecoming
By Technical Sgt. Andrew Hughan
23 October 2003


“When you left more than eight months ago I told you I would be here to welcome you back, today I am here to say, “Welcome home, well done, and mission accomplished.” Words of appreciation and thanks to the 43 members of the 126th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the company who served at home and supported the deployed soldiers from Major General Dennis Kenneally, Commander Army National Guard, at a welcome home ceremony at Mather Field on October 19.
 
Though the soldiers returned from deployment a few weeks ago, there has not been an opportunity to have a celebration for the soldiers, commanders, community leaders and families. With everyone, including Sacramento media members present, on a beautiful sunny day, the 41 soldiers in desert camouflage uniforms sat at the front of the formation, as the narrator read the accomplishments of the 126th in past and recent conflicts.
 
The mission of the 126th Medical Company is to provide aerial medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) to state and civil disasters and emergencies. They exemplify the motto “DUSTOFF” by being constantly involved in lifesaving, search and rescue, firefighting, and relief operations throughout the state, nation, and world for the last three decades.
 
In 2002, the 126th Medical Company reorganized into a split-state unit between California and Nevada. With the multi-state relationship in its infancy, the unit deployed 41 members to Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and two members to Iraq.
 
In Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, 41 soldiers and six UH-60 Helicopters (to include two of the Army’s newest HH-60 helicopters) deployed for eight months to Afghanistan. While deployed, they performed 153 successful missions, 223 patient transports, and flew 820 hours of flight time in some of the “harshest flight environments the unit has ever flown.” The two teams based in Bagram and Kandahar were awarded eight Bronze stars and numerous air medals for their courageous efforts in all weather and combat conditions. The 34 individuals from California and seven from the Nevada took their place in history as being the first Army National Guard unit to deploy the HH-60 helicopters to a combat environment, etching the units place in aviation history and the history of the California National Guard.
 
The Adjutant General, Major General Paul Monroe, Jr., recognized the soldiers awarded the Bronze Stars, Air Medals and Army Commendation Medals. Also recognized were 126th soldiers that managed the home and family support functions so important to the deployed soldiers and their families.
As more and more California soldiers deploy overseas, family support is paramount. Lt. Colonel Mitch Medigovich, Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment presented certificates of appreciation and thanks to the wives of five soldiers that went “above and beyond” to help, support and encourage other families during the deployment.

Additionally Mrs. Laura Monroe, the wife of the Adjutant General had a special certificate for Mrs. Michele Crandall, the 126th Family Support Group leader, for undying efforts to keep the other family members informed of current events and happenings in the 126th. Mrs. Monroe read the certificate to the crowd and thanked Mrs. Crandall for her efforts.
 
General Monroe addressed the soldiers and the crowd with words of praise for the unit’s outstanding efforts in Afghanistan. The General had recently returned from a visit to the region and said that the 126th was still the topic of conversation in the theater.
 
“They want you back, said General Monroe, “your expertise and experience left a lasting impression on everyone there and you are missed.”
 
Army National Guard Commander Major General Dennis Kenneally, reiterated the Adjutant General’s comments, telling the deployed soldiers what an outstanding job they did and also asked the other members of the 126th who did not deploy to stand and be recognized, “Because no deployed unit can succeed without the help and efforts of the soldiers and families that stay behind,” said MG Kenneally.
 
Two members of the California legislature were also there, State Senator Deborah V. Ortiz and Assemblyman (Dr.) Alan Nakanishi. Senator Ortiz presented a Certificate of Recognition to 126th Commander, Major Bruce Balzano, from the State Senate and Assemblyman Nakanishi thanked the soldiers for their commitment.
 
“The assembly and the people of California thank you all for the time and sacrifice that you have given to your state and nation, thank you and welcome home,” said Nakanishi.
 
Many 126th family members were at the ceremony, and the detachment First Sergeant SFC Gary Volkman addressed his fellow soldiers and the crowd.
 
“Ladies and gentlemen, what you have heard today are great successes and sacrifices. However, they pale in comparison to the true strength and honor of those that support these soldiers. They could not have deployed successfully without the strength of their families and friends,” said Volkman.
 
The deployed soldiers stood and presented their family members with bouquets of flowers, small medals and kisses.
 
Army Chaplain and Christopher Guadiz had the last words of the day, ones that many of the soldiers of the 126th Medical Company may have been waiting to hear for a long time. “Ladies and Gentlemen please rise. By authority of the United States Army, the 126th Medical Company is herby officially released from active duty.”
 
With that, the soldiers and their families return to their lives, jobs and homes in the community. These citizen soldiers continue to support important the mission of their unit, to save lives wherever and whenever needed and epitomize the mission of the National Guard: Always ready, Always there.
 
 
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Updated 8 February 2016