Medevac team saves lives in Afghanistan

Five U.S. troops were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. The number of casualties in the war has been growing, but more American lives are being saved with high-tech emergency medical care. To see how that is done, CBS News correspondent Seth Doane spent time with a medevac chopper crew in Kandahar province.

All they knew was that they were flying toward a mass-casualty event. Having left the lights of Kandahar behind, the shadowy threats this U.S Army medevac team regularly face were only further obscured by darkness.

Twenty-five-year-old staff sergeant Kyle Clark hopped out of the chopper to survey the scene.

"I jumped out," he said. "I was on the ground maybe 15 seconds [and] they took off. You're out there by yourself. You have no idea what you're walking into."

A few minutes later, they loaded casualties on two helicopters. Time was their biggest enemy. These flight medics refer to having a so-called "golden hour" -- just 60 minutes -- to get the seriously wounded to a hospital.

"[You do a] blood sweep," explained Clark, "[and] figure out where he's bleeding from. Once you figure that out, you fix things as you come across them."

Little was known about the back-story -- how these five Afghan police officers wound up with multiple gunshot wounds.

"When patients come in here, what are you trying to do?" Doane asked Clark. "Just stabilize them?"

"Yes. We're trying to get them to the next echelon of care."

Daylight offers a better sense of how the flight medics of "Task Force Thunder" operate, criss-crossing war-torn Kandahar.

"We're not going out to a place where there's a heart attack," said Clark. "We're going out to a place where someone just got blown up or shot -- and that individual is more than likely still hanging around somewhere."

Due to Geneva Convention rules, these medical helicopters cannot be armed, but that often makes them a target. In landing these choppers, pilots make wild zigzags coming in fast and close, all to evade enemy fire.

They're charged with serving everyone -- from coalition troops to the enemy itself.

"Do you think you've ever treated someone you suspect as being an insurgent?" Doane asked Clark.

"I have, I know I have. I've treated multiple casualties on the battlefield from that were some part of the insurgency."

"How is that psychologically?"

"Honestly, you don't think about it," said Clark. "You go out there and you give it your all for every single patient that gets on that helicopter."

The medevac crews are the front line in a new era of high-tech combat medical care that's saving more wounded Americans than ever before.

  • Seth Doane

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