Military News

Monday, May 18, 2015

Saving lives: Airman flies on casualty evacuation missions after Nepal earthquake

by Staff Sgt. Melissa White
JTF-505 Public Affairs

5/18/2015 - KATHMANDU, Nepal  -- Two weeks after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal, a second 7.3 magnitude earthquake rattled the nation May 12, 2015, causing even more injuries, devastation and need for help.

Master Sgt. Joe Damian, 36th Contingency Response Group independent duty medical technician-paramedic, didn't know what was happening at first but was shocked when he realized another earthquake was shaking the ground. Immediately, his medical training kicked in as he wondered if earthquake victims would need his help as he started his daily shift at the Tribhuvan International Airport here.

"I was on the bus when we got to the airfield, and the first thing they did was yell my name and tell me to get off the bus," Damian said. "I saw the casualty collection point and I knew things were serious."

Damian found himself in the midst of helping other U.S. and Nepalese service members assess casualties who had been brought to the airfield for triage, treatment and transportation to a higher echelon of care.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marines were gearing up to head out for casualty evacuations using UH-1Y Huey helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, but they didn't have enough medical professionals to ride along and assist with caring for the patients on the 20-minute flight back to the airfield. Col. Lee Anderson, 36th CRG commander, aware of Damian's skills and past experiences as a special operations forces medic flying on helicopters, unhesitatingly offered up his expertise.

"His previous experience as a special operations medic made him well suited for the job," Anderson said. "He came to Nepal to care for the CRG members who were assisting the government of Nepal with the relief efforts but we are happy he was able to use his longtime experience as an IDMT to treat the Nepalese who were injured in the earthquake."

Within an hour after the earthquake, which occurred at approximately 1 p.m., he was flying over the mountains to the remote village of Charikot looking for victims of the disaster.

"There were a lot of houses scattered everywhere in the mountains, and a lot of them were caved in," Damian said. "As soon as we landed, the Nepalese army trucks drove up right away to transfer the patients to us."

Damian was requested by name from the Marines to fly on the casualty evacuation missions with them for the next two days, totaling approximately 10 flying hours on nine sorties. He helped transport six patients to the flightline aid station at the airfield, which ended up treating a total of 59 earthquake victims.

"People don't want to see things like this happen, and this earthquake was almost as strong as the first one," he said. "When disasters like this happen, there are bound to be injuries. Out of the thousands who were injured from this one, we were able to provide care for people who really needed treatment."

Damian deployed with the 36th CRG from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and arrived in Nepal May 5 as part of Joint Task Force 505 to assist the government of Nepal and U.S. Agency for International Development with airfield operations and processing relief supplies.

In addition to caring for the Nepalese earthquake victims and the 36th CRG Airmen, he has found himself assisting the group with downloading hundreds of thousands of pounds of relief supplies daily. As of May 15, the group had downloaded 3.7 million pounds of cargo from more than 50 different aircraft.

"This experience has been really gratifying knowing I'm able to help out the people who need it most," he said. "My job is to save lives whether that is through medical care or by downloading relief supplies to get them to the earthquake victims."

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