CBN News Military Correspondent Chuck Holton spent a week with an aviation unit Afghanistan and found out just how vital these pilots are to our troops, and just how heroic they are.
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan - Task force shadow is an aviation unit based at Bagram Airfield. Its presence is vital, given the increase of enemy activity over the last year.
The aviation company of the 101st Airborne is one of the busiest units in the country. They're constantly called on every day to ferry troops and equipment all over the eastern part of Afghanistan.
But there's one other part of their mission that's even more important, and it goes by the call-sign "Dustoff."
Several times a day, sirens signal the need for emergency medical evacuation. On-call at all times, this small team of highly-trained pilots and medical personnel is ready to respond.
"We're a flying emergency room, we have everything the patient needs to stay alive, even all the way down to shocking that person to restart their heart," saud CW2 Dwayne Taylor, a medevac helicopter co-pilot.
Gathering the Wounded
It isn't long before the call comes in: a convoy hit by a roadside bomb. There are six urgent casualties.
The crews rush to their aircraft and, moments later, we are airborne. The tension rises when we receive word that the troops on the ground are receiving rocket and machine gun fire. It's expected to be a hot landing zone.
"It's constantly running through my mind, every time we go to a point of injury that we could possibly be shot at or be attacked while we're sitting there on the ground," Taylor explained.
We touch down hard in a cloud of dust. Even before it clears, the wounded start to hobble aboard. That's when we get the terrible news: two soldiers of the 101st Airborne have died of their wounds.
Over the radio, they're referred to as heroes. Emotions are high, and I drop my camera to help one of the wounded buckle in.
"Hang in there buddy! You're going to be okay!"
Then the soldiers returned with one more litter - one of those killed in action. That hero's name was Donnie Carwile - a first lieutenant who left his job as a policeman in Oxford, Miss., to lead a platoon here in Afghanistan. Back at home, his wife Jennifer and two young daughters would soon get the painful news that their lives have changed forever.
But there wasn't time to grieve. On the way back to base, the flight surgeon and medics worked with grim efficiency to stabilize their patients. Upon landing at the hospital, a team of doctors and nurses whisked the soldiers to surgery.
Coping with Death
At the end of the day, I sat down with the platoon commander Lt. Graham Inman and talked about the stress that comes with doing this kind of work every day.
"It's cumulative, it's not like it just wears off, and everyone has their own threshold of what they can handle," Inman explained. "This isn't a job you can do and not be affected by."
One of the ways these pilots deal with that is through volunteer work with children next door at the hospital. There, military doctors treat many local Afghans. These kids bring joy to men who have seen too much of death.
"Every time I look at those kids, I see my kids." Taylor said.
"Without a doubt the most difficult thing is being away from the wife and kids," Major Dimarco said. "But all you have to do is see the Afghans and how they are struggling, and how they're trying to better themselves and you realize that this is something that needs to be done."
Lt. Inman agreed.
"I get a great sense of satisfaction out of what I do," he said. "I wouldn't say I thoroughly enjoy it. There's some unpleasant things about my job, but every day when I go to bed at the end of the night, I know I've saved lives."
And as for me, I can say that after this mission, Memorial Day takes on a whole new meaning.
*Original broadcast November 11, 2008.