Airmen and soldiers from the Indiana National Guard trained together during a medical transport exercise with a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at the Johnson County Armory, July 2, 2020.
“This is unique because this is a joint training mission, and something we don’t always get to be a part of,” said Maj. Brian Mathieson, Air Force officer-in-charge. “It’s not only about COVID, but also about learning how to work well with one another.”
A majority of the National Guard force consists of traditional Guardsmen and women who serve part-time one weekend per month. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many members stepped up to volunteer in their communities and alongside their sister services.
“For the traditional National Guard we don’t always get to work as a joint task force,” said Army National Guard Maj. Timothy Savage, 215th Area Support Medical Company commander. “Working the last 90 days with the Air Force hand-in-hand has been wonderful, not only for me but also for my troops to see the different sides and how each branch operates.”
Not only did the training allow the opportunity to do so alongside members of their sister branches in the state, but also the opportunity for medical personnel to become accustomed to the procedures of loading and unloading from a live aircraft.
“Our motto is ‘we train how we fight’ so we have to know how to properly load, not only for the safety of the patient but for the safety of our medics,” said Savage.
During the exercise, members practiced loading and unloading procedures via voice direction with the aircraft off and using hand signals with the aircraft engines running. This second scenario is also known as a “hot load” and one of the closest ways to replicate real-world missions.
Training exercises such as these become increasingly important during a medical pandemic, but also create a challenge for safely conducting them. Through the enforcement of social distancing, mask wear and proper personal hygiene the Guard hopes to contain the spread of the virus among members while still being able to conduct training and fulfill the state mission.
“There’s been a lot of frustration because things are changing [because of the virus] and you never know what to expect,” said Mathieson. “But we’re adapting, adjusting and writing the handbook for the future. A good mentor of mine used to say ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ Well, it’s one bite at a time, and it’s the same with COVID.”
Editor’s Note: Due to rotor wash, aka propeller wash, service members did not wear masks for safety reasons as the masks could cause debris interfering with helicopter propellers.