After The Battle: The Golden Hour

Story by Senior Airman Chris Willis

This is the first in a four-part series about the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing’s medical response capabilities and the various teams within the wing who play a role in the care and transportation of combat-wounded troops throughout Afghanistan.

Photo: Members of the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel transport a patient using an HH-60G Pave Hawk during a training mission outside of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 12, 2013. The 83rd ERQS Guardian Angel’s mission is to rescue, recover and return American or allied forces in times of danger or extreme duress. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Willis.

Members of the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel transport a patient using an HH-60G Pave Hawk during a training mission outside of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 12, 2013. The 83rd ERQS Guardian Angel’s mission is to rescue, recover and return American or allied forces in times of danger or extreme duress. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Willis.

“The Golden Hour” refers to the hour immediately following a serious injury and is the most critical period in the patient’s survival.

The call comes in: there is a coalition forces member in need of immediate and serious medical care in the eastern mountains of Afghanistan. Within minutes, a small tactical recovery team, known as Guardian Angel, is on a helicopter heading towards their objective.

For the members of Bagram’s 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel, this is exactly what they train for and are ready to execute. Their mission is to rescue, recover and return American or allied forces in times of danger or extreme duress.

“We have less than an hour to get that patient under ‘bright lights and cold steel’ if they are going to live,” said Staff Sgt. George Reed, 83rd ERQS pararescueman, referring to that “golden hour” when a patient has no other option than immediate surgery.

“Any environment, anytime, anywhere we will execute a rescue mission or patient recovery,” said Reed.

Maj. Joe Lopez described Guardian Angel as a U.S. Air Force weapons system comprised of three career fields: the CRO (combat rescue officer), the PJ (pararescuemen) and SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape).

This combined weapons system can execute the five phases of personnel recovery from Report, Locate, Support, Recovery and Reintegrate.

Recovering patients in Afghanistan requires not just combat medical training but increased situational awareness in case of enemy activity.

“Our team is highly trained on ground tactics,” said Lopez, 83rd ERQS combat rescue officer. “In many cases we have to provide our own security in a hostile location while we prepare the patient for transport.”

One of the distinct capabilities of the GA team is technical rescue where they utilize extrication equipment to remove war fighters or civilians trapped in wreckage or collapsed structures in almost any terrain or environment.

The situation can vary from a high altitude crash to a mass casualty incident to a packaged patient ready for evacuation.

“The idea is to get in and out as fast as possible without exposing the patient to additional threats,” said Lopez. “The longer we are on the ground, the longer we are vulnerable to attack and can decrease the patient’s chance of survival.”

While in flight, the parascuemen perform trauma medicine to stabilize the patient in order to bring them safely to a higher level of care.

The actions of these Battlefield Airmen of the Bagram 83rd ERQS Guardian Angel prove their dedication and commitment to saving lives and staying true to their motto, “These Things We Do…That Others May Live…To Return With Honor.”

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