By Nelson Baltazar
Within the U.S. Military, there exists a special elite force whose primary mission is to render first aid and urgent care on the battlefield and in the air. They are known as combat medics or PJ’s (Pararescuemen).
Historically, combat medics do not pack a weapon and wore a red-cross insignia that served to distinguish them as non-combatants. However, in modern day warfare, such as the war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), the enemies are often insurgents. As such, this highly dangerous and elusive enemy does not recognize specific articles of the Geneva Convention. One such article states that military personnel whose job entails caring for the injured and or dying, are exempt from engagement.
The modern day combat medic, sometimes referred to by other soldiers as “Doc” out of respect, is almost indistinguishable from other soldiers. They wear the same uniform and carry the same combat gear as primary battlefield personnel. However, the piece of equipment that differentiates them from their brothers-in-arms is their backpack, which contains everything they need to administer emergency medicine if the occasion arises. In addition to their medically equipped backpack, medics feature a patch on their uniform with the letters, “PJ,” further identifying them as medics.
The assistance of specially designed aircrafts is an essential aspect carrying out rescue/medical evacuation missions. In modern day combat rescue, the medic usually transports patients in a black hawk helicopter known simply as “The Bird.” At this year’s Helifest at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA., the black hawk’s predecessor, the Bell UH-1 “Huey” will be available for public viewing. Visitors will have the unique opportunity to be face to face with this Vietnam era military helicopter, which was used to remove wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Aside from medical evacuation, this legendary aircraft also transported battle ready soldiers to the frontline.
Lastly, within the museum’s gallery sits an orange colored prototype Med-Evac helicopter, the Del Mar DH-20, which could accommodate one pilot and one patient. While it never made it to full production, its existence was the product of human innovation and creative spirit.