Medevac Mission, Balad Air Base, Iraq, 2007

Landing in Hell: Army Medevac Today

Medical evacuation during a time of crisis is something the military has perfected over the ages. Many lives can be saved when wounded soldiers are removed from the battlefield as soon as possible, even as the battle rages on. The medical evacuation procedures that have evolved to accomplish this mission are known today as MEDEVAC, or medevac.

The medevac military medic is usually summoned to the scene of battle as casualties occur. The medevac medical team immediately whisks away wounded warriors to temporary combat support hospitals (CSHs) or Navy hospital ships, where surgical units and emergency medical care is state of the art. Once at such a combat trauma center, wounded soldiers are stabilized for transport to a fixed-location military hospital, usually located in the United States.

The first medevac maneuvers developed in Burma, near the end of World War II. The US Army used Sikorsky R-4 helicopters to transport wounded soldiers to field hospitals erected just behind front lines. By the time of the Korean War, the Sikorskys had been mostly replaced by Bell 47 helicopters. Today’s medevac units are modern medical marvels.

In addition to the highly trained staff of emergency medical responders on the medevac unit, triage and life-support systems are standard equipment. The primary objective of these rescue flights is to save as many lives as possible and, especially during times of war, every second can be a game changer.

As mandated by the Geneva Convention, all medevac units must clearly bear the mark of the red cross or red crescent, which designate the unit as a neutral, unarmed, hospital unit. Firing upon military medevac units is a war crime. Though unarmed as a unit, individuals on medevac flights are allowed to bear arms, especially when working behind enemy lines and in other “hot zones.”

Civilians rely on medevac services, too, although they are usually operated by private industry and civilians rather than the military. Such services are often called air ambulances, medical air lifts, and LifeFlight. Medevac services for both military and civilian rescues are conducted by ground transportation as well as via air travel, depending on the situation at hand.

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