SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE
DC-NG 121st Med Company leads the way with the UH72A
Eurocopter’s militarized EC145 proves its worth as medevac asset for National Guard.
By Phil Rose
Two UH72A Lakotas of DC-NG’s 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) over Washington DC. The 121st was the first National Guard unit to receive the medevac-configured UH72A.
Early last year the District of Columbia National Guard (DC-NG) took delivery of 6 new American Eurocopter UH72A Lakotas. Based at DAA (Davison AAF, Fort Belvoir VA), DC-NG’s 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) was the first National Guard unit to receive the medevac-configured version of the UH72A.
121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) is tasked with providing National Guard medevac support to the National Capital Region (NCR), and its 6 UH72As replaced 9 Bell UH1Hs and UH1Vs used in that role.
DC-NG is due to receive 2 non-medical-configured UH72As in 2012 for operation by Detachment 1, B Company, 1-224th Security & Support—the 121st’s sister company at DAA—which currently flies the Bell OH58A.
By that time the 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) will have become D Company, 1-224th Aviation Battalion. DAA lies about 13 nm southwest of Washington DC, and has been a subordinate installation of the Military District of Washington (MDW) since Aug 1954.
Home base for several Army flying units, DAA is also HQ for the Operational Support Airlift Agency (OSAA) and its subsidiary Operational Support Airlift Command (OSACOM).
Major Mark Escherich has been the commander of the 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) since Nov 2005. He is also the unit’s training and ops officer. Currently on active duty, Escherich has served 18 years in the Army, all of them in aviation.
He has 1650 hrs TT (all rotary-wing) and has been in medevac since 1998, with the exception of a 3-year break during which he commanded an aviation HQ company and a helicopter air assault company. 121st Medical Company is authorized 157 soldiers—111 in DC, 46 currently detached to Delaware NG (DE-NG).
Escherich notes that while DE-NG itself will not be getting UH72s, the future detachment will be allocated to Vermont, where it will fly the type. Escherich explains that the National Guard is tasked with supporting disaster relief, subject to Presidential declaration of a state of emergency, and adds that the company can deploy separately to a “permissive environment” noncombat medevac zone if required.
Because of current overseas operations, both the detachment and HQ have released soldiers to deploy in support of other missions. Lt Col Maureen Bellamy has been DC-NG’s State Aviation Officer since Oct 2006. In her 25-year Army aviation career she has amassed more than 4200 hrs TT, all of them rotary-wing.
DC-NG State Aviation Officer Lt Col Maureen Bellamy (L) with 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) Commander Maj Mark Escherich.
Bellamy is also the facility commander for the DC Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF). Bellamy notes that, while most civilian hospital or commercially operated medevac helicopters have a crew of 2 or 3—a single pilot, a medical technician and/or a nurse—the Army standard crew is 4, consisting of 2 pilots, a crew chief and a flight medic.
Any associated reduction in patient capacity brings with it better ability to provide patient care. UH72 operational readiness rates are over 90%—better than those of the UH1—says Bellamy. And while UH1 utilization used to run around 120 flight hrs per month, Bellamy predicts that the pace will probably pick up a little with the UH72.
The unit’s DC-NG component has 20 pilots, 9 crew chiefs and 9 trained flight medics, says Escherich. At present 5 pilots (Escherich, 1 medevac team leader and 3 instructor pilots, 1 of whom is not in the 121st) are PIC qualified on the UH72, and 5 crew chiefs and 3 flight medics are fully trained.
Bellamy admits that the UH72 has presented a steep learning curve. “The systems—particularly the navigation system and autopilot—are different. There’s a lot to learn.” She continues, “Now we have several pilots with over 100 hrs in the aircraft.
Probably 2/3 of our pilots have progressed to Readiness Level 1—not PIC, but qualified to fly on a mission.” This first year with a new type is a time of transition for the 121st. “We’re still defining our role with regard to our mission,” says Escherich.
The plan is to be “a Dept of Defense (DoD) asset to support civilian authorities (DSCA)”—a goal that involves perfecting ways to perform the mission, while integrating into both DoD taskforce and civilian first responder operations.
Members of 121st Medical Company (Air Ambulance) and fellow DAA-based unit RFC Fort Belvoir.
He continues, “Because we’re the 1st UH72 medevac unit in the National Guard, we’re rapidly becoming subject matter experts on the Guard medevac mission for the aircraft. We’re also identifying future medical skill set requirements.” Specifically, Escherich and his colleagues have determined the need for more cardiac, airway management and pharmaceutical training, in part to meet the standards of the National Registry EMT-Paramedic (NREMT-P) program.
“Locally, we’re attempting to map Army training to civilian standards so an Army medic can become a civilian paramedic,” he says. The rationale behind this is that while on a DSCA mission an Army flight medic needs to be able to receive a patient from a civilian paramedic while maintaining the medical provider level of care to avoid patient care abandonment concerns.
(This avoids bringing the paramedic on board, with resultant weight-and-balance and space issues). At present the 121st is developing its repertoire of rescue hoist operations, tactics and techniques with the UH72.
The unit is also refining its mission planning so that, for example, a fully crewed UH72 can arrive on scene light enough to accomplish the mission and with enough fuel to complete it. “We’re discovering what we need to do differently to maximize UH72 utility,” explains Escherich. “It’s a cultural shift. The UH72A is a light utility helicopter.