Saturday, October 05, 2013

From training to trauma: A testament of heroism

by Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe
NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan Public Affairs

9/25/2013 - SHINDAD, Afghanistan -- Editor's note: Tech. Sgt. Matty Garcia is deployed from the 6th Special Operations Squadron, which falls under the Air Force Special Operations Command Air Warfare Center.

It started as any other training day for the crew of Jayhoon 11; however, events unfolded Sept. 7 which proved to be a true test of tactics, training and teamwork.

"Start up and taxi were uneventful," said Tech. Sgt. Matty Garcia, 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron Mi-17 evaluator aerial gunner. "Upon holding short of Jayhoon Pad, Shindand Tower informed us to hold position for an emergency in progress."

Garcia is deployed from the 6th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and hails from Hinton, W.Va.

The emergency occurred moments earlier when U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas "Andy" Miller and Afghan air force Lt. Massoud Islamkhil's MD530 helicopter landed on an improvised explosive device during a routine training mission.

The detonation threw shrapnel and debris in all directions, blew one of the aircraft skids and pieces of rotor down the side of the hill and started the aircraft on fire.

Islamkhil had recently graduated from his initial qualification course in the Mi-17, and had been selected to become part of the first cadre of Afghan instructors to teach undergraduate helicopter training in the MD-530, the first step in replacing coalition pilots in Afghanistan. The flight was his first in a series to provide the hours needed to begin his advanced instructor training.

"Knowing that we were armed, and that my crew was trained in rescue, I requested to launch to assist," said Capt. Mary Clark, 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Mi-17 evaluator pilot and chief of flight safety.

"I made a quick approach to the base of the hill with the idea of dropping off my back enders to assist the victims. Once on the ground, we realized the hill was much larger than we initially assessed and impractical to hike."

Clark is assigned to the 512th Rescue Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and calls Apalachin, N.Y., home.

After discussing options with the crew, Clark made the decision to get as close to the crash site as possible and have Garcia jump out of the aircraft to assess and treat the victims.

"I called the aircraft as close as I thought safe to the rock face on the right side of the aircraft and called for a descent to approximately 10 feet," Garcia said. "I notified the crew that I would be off comm., released my gunner's belt and unplugged from the comm. cord. I exited the aircraft off the right step at approximately 10-15 feet. Upon landing I immediately started on foot up the hill to the crash site."

The situation Garcia faced on the hilltop was one of broken bones, blood and burning aircraft. Both Miller and Islamkhil were outside the aircraft, but Miller was the only one conscious of the two. He told Garcia he believed Islamkhil was dead, despite his efforts of placing tourniquets on the Afghan's arm and leg.

"At this point I heard a 'popping' sound," Garcia said. "I looked at the crash site,approximately 50 feet away, and realized that CW4 Miller's M-4 was in the fire, and his bag containing extra rounds was on fire. I heard one round go past my head and I immediately repositioned Mr. Miller behind a rock. I was afraid that he would be hit by a round cooking off. It was at that moment that I heard the Afghan cry out and realized that he was still alive. I told Mr. Miller to keep talking to tower. He was weak and I did not want him to lose consciousness. I reasoned that if he was talking on the radio, he would not lose consciousness."

After assessing injuries, Garcia placed an additional tourniquet over a makeshift one on Islamkhil's leg and tightened the existing one on his arm.

While Garcia was busy on the ground, Clark was making calls to request a hoist and two litters to transport the victims from the site. She was also thinking of the best way to provide additional support to Miller and Islamkhil.

"I knew we had firemen on board and that they would have medical training," she said. "I needed my remaining gunner and my flight engineer to call my hover clearance and man our guns against further threats. With this in mind, I asked Master Sgt. [Dan] Parker, a fireman, if he was willing to jump out and assist."

Parker agreed to assist with the medical action taking place on the ground, and Clark made another drop off near the site.

"About four minutes after I was dropped off, I observed Jayhoon 11 on the approach to the same location where I was dropped off," Garcia said. "I shielded CW4 Miller as best I could from the rotor wash and flying debris. I did not see them depart, but two minutes later, Master Sgt. Parker arrived at the crash site. I knew he was a firefighter with more medical training than me, so I directed him to assist the Afghan in any way he could. I brought my personal IFAC kit with me, but due to the nature of both patients' injuries, there was nothing in it that would have helped. Master Sgt. Parker did an outstanding job assessing the Afghan and calming him."

During that time, both Jayhoon 11 and her sister ship set up a tight orbit, keeping in constant contact with the tower. When the Army HH-60 rescue assets arrived on scene, Clark helped vector them in.

"When the Army 60s arrived on scene we moved our two-ship to the south to keep up a protective posture but remain clear so we weren't in the way of their hoist operations," Clark said. "We were very lucky that we were in the right place at the right time with very capable crews that day."

Clark spoke with Miller prior to his surgery and he thanked her for saving his life. He was grateful for Garcia's presence and reassurance on top of the medical aid and radio coordination he provided.

"The doctors told us that he [Garcia] saved both lives by tightening and applying the tourniquets expeditiously."

Language Enabled Airman Program participants assist at Pacific Rim Airpower Conference

by Jodi L. Jordan
Air Force Culture and Language Center

10/3/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- An Air Force program integrator, an acquisitions officer, and a weapon systems officer recently attended the Pacific Rim Airpower Symposium in Thailand, but it wasn't to do integration, acquisitions or weapons. Majors Veasna Pel and Paul Sebold and Capt. Jay Park are all members of the Language Enabled Airman Program, and they were specially selected to participate in the symposium because of their language skills - Cambodian/Khmer, Russian, and Korean, respectively.

PACRIM is an annual meeting of senior air operations officers and senior enlisted leaders from the air forces of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's symposium was held in Bangkok, and was attended by representatives from 22 countries. LEAP is a U.S. Air Force program that sustains, enhances and utilizes the existing language skills of Airmen from across the Air Force. Although almost all the PACRIM delegates spoke English as well as their native languages, pairing the LEAP participants with delegates provided greater understanding, the delegates said. The arrangement benefitted the LEAP participants, as well, by giving them experience using their language skills in an Air Force environment.

In fact, Pel, Sebold and Park's participation at PACRIM was a prime example of how LEAP provides the Air Force with linguistically and culturally competent Airmen, said program organizers. "We have a great relationship with our partners in PACAF," said, Capt. Breezy Long, LEAP Operations Branch chief. "We were looking for real-world opportunities for some of the more advanced LEAP participants, and we asked our contacts at PACAF if there were any upcoming requirements that would be a good fit." The PACRIM Airpower Symposium was a natural choice, said Maj. Darin Gregg, one of the Symposium organizers.

"Having a LEAP Airman that is both fluent in the language and experienced in their trade allows us to cover detailed items that are not easily translated," Gregg said. "Standard language programs do not typically cover complex maintenance, operations and logistics ideas, so a LEAP Airman in these specialties is in a better position than a standard translator to explain these concepts."

While at the Symposium, the LEAP participants assisted the delegates from Cambodia, Mongolia, and Korea. The assistance was greatly appreciated and increased understanding, said Maj. Gen. Som Yom, deputy chief of staff of the Cambodian Air Force, who worked with Pel during the event. "At some points, we need to have it expressed in our own language because we couldn't get the deeper meaning of the presentations or discussions," Som Yom said. "He increased the level of understanding for me. With 21 nations here, there are many speaking dialects. I can understand the English words, but because of the different dialects and the speed of speech, I cannot get 100 percent, so I would ask for his help."

Chief Master Sergeant of the Korean Air Force Lee Jung Yeol worked with Park, and he echoed the value of the LEAP participants' attendance. "If Capt. Park was not here, I would still been able to get the general idea of the briefings but not the detailed understanding that is necessary. Our discussions during have helped me conceptualize it down to the more detailed level," Jung Yeol said. "And it was also nice to have a fellow Korean here." Jung Yeol also illustrated the relationship building that came from having a LEAP participant to help, saying, "I would like to especially thank the U.S. military for providing a linguist so my experience could be expanded. I will always be grateful for this opportunity."

The LEAP participants were also grateful to have the opportunity to use their language abilities outside of a training environment. "As part of the LEAP program, I understand the culture and the language and that is invaluable to developing relationships in the region," Pel said. "I am glad I am part of the program and I got to help out as much as possible out here in an actual operational environment."

More than 1,000 Airmen currently participate in LEAP. The program is highly selective, seeking Airmen who are not just able, but who are also willing, to use their existing language abilities for the Air Force.
"The program seeks to develop cross-culturally competent leaders with working-level foreign language proficiency - leaders who can meet Air Force global mission requirements," said Mr. Zachary Hickman, the AFCLC's Language Division chief. "We select Airmen from jobs across the Air Force. They stay in their 'day jobs,' but they gain a level of language and culture learning that allows them to do their 'day jobs,' in another language and in another country."

Two LEAP selection boards are typically held each year, with one focused on officers and one for enlisted candidates. The next selection board will be for enlisted candidates and will be in spring of 2014. The next selection board for officers will be in fall 2014. Exact dates will be announced on the AFCLC's website at and on the Air Force Portal. Interested candidates are encouraged to schedule Defense Language Proficiency Tests or Oral Proficiency Interviews with their local base education offices in preparation for the application period. LEAP is operated by the Air Force Culture and Language Center, part of the Spaatz Center for Officer Education at Air University.