AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- While deployed to Iraq, the mission of a UH-1N Huey helicopter pilot and his crew is to provide support to ground units with heavy firepower and an extra set of eyes, but for one pilot and his crew, a mission of escorting convoys Sept. 25, turned into one of the most unforgettable days of their lives.
The UH-1N Huey pilots, Capt. Clint R. Marshall and 1st Lt. Ryan N. Harshman, and their two crew members, Staff Sgt. Mark DiPasquale and Sgt. Samair Alyassini, were conducting a convoy support mission in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq when they were redirected to provide cover for a disabled aircraft Sept. 25.
"We knew there was an injury when we arrived to the site," said Marshall, assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "All we could do at that point was listen to the updates over the radio to find out what was happening and make sure that the crew on the ground was safe."
After an update on the injured soldier, the Marines knew what they had to do. They needed to evacuate the injured soldier to a medical facility.
With limited landing space available at the location, the Marines would have to hover over the disabled aircraft and hoist the soldier into their helicopter.
"As Marines we take chances sometimes," said DiPasquale, UH-1N Huey crew chief, HMLA-167. "This was a maneuver that we don't usually do, but we had to in order to help that soldier."
With his co-pilot, Harshman, watching the gauges and manning communication, and Alyassini directing him where to go, Marshall brought the Huey in close enough for DiPasquale to physically reach the injured man.
"This was a very dangerous situation because we were trying to hover over people within close proximity to them," said Alyassini, helicopter airframes mechanic UH-1/AH-1, HMLA-167. "I guided the pilots in above the disabled helicopter so that we could grab hold of the wounded soldier."
Once the Huey was in position and the hover was held, the Marines tried to get a gunner's belt around the soldier so they could hoist him inside of their helicopter.
"The soldiers were on the rotor head of the disabled aircraft when we began our hover above them. The rotor wash from our Huey started to spin the rotor the soldiers were on," said DiPasquale, native of Rochester, N.Y. "When this happened, it made it hard to secure the belt around him, so we had to try it a different way."
When the belt idea didn't work, the Marines repositioned their Huey and got in close so DiPasquale and Alyassini could grab a hold of the wounded man and pull him aboard their aircraft.
"The soldier was a very big guy," said Alyassini, a Cupertino, Calif., native. "But we had no problem pulling him up into our bird."
The Marines then headed back to Al Asad with their wounded soldier so that he could get the proper medical treatment.
"Good teamwork made this mission a success," said Harshman, a native of Jacksonville, N.C., and UH-1N Huey pilot, HMLA-167. "We analyzed the situation and made it work right. The directions from the crew put Marshall right on target."
Although their heroics were just another part of a day in the life of pilots and crewmembers with HMLA-167, they walked a little taller knowing that their actions had saved a man's life.
"This was my first time flying with Marshall," said Harshman. "It is a mission that I will never forget."
A few days after the daring rescue, the soldiers with 82nd Medical Company, MAG-16, surprised the Marines early in the morning with a token of their appreciation.
"I was really surprised by the soldiers awarding us the (Army Commendation Medal)," said Marshall. "I honestly felt better knowing we saved that soldier than I did getting a medal."
Although as prestigious as it is for the Marines to be awarded a medal by a different branch of the military service, Marshall and his crew knew that there was no medal that could instill the sense of pride they got after saving the soldier's life.
"I got a more honorable feeling from knowing he was okay, than any award could ever give me," said Alyassini. "It was great for the Army to do that, but we would do it for anyone, anywhere."
"We have gained a greater respect for the jobs that the soldiers of the medical evacuation units do," said Marshall. "The feelings you get knowing that your actions saved someone's life, is by far the best feeling anyone could ever have."
Disclaimer -- Photos associated with the article can be found at the following links:
1 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006111023733
2 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006111023623