The thunder of the C-130
Hercules engine vibrates through the cabin as the aircraft lifts
off of the runway. Today’s mission is different than most.
Today, Australians and Americans leave pallets and passengers
behind, making room to gather the wounded and bring them back
Affectionately called "the mercy channel," this weekly mission
pairs a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J and aircrew with a U.S.
Air Force medical team.
Moving more than 1,883 patients since August, these missions
travel throughout Iraq and Kuwait, gathering injured servicemembers
and delivering them to higher care facilities.
"The patients we carry on these missions were injured in some
way, down range," said Capt. Kristie Harlow, 379th Expeditionary
Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight nurse. "Our job is to get
them where they need to go for treatment, while providing them the
care they need."
All onboard agree that the Australian hosts, part of the
Australian Defense Force’s Joint Task Force 633, provide
first class accommodations for the patients and the Airmen who care
"Our Australian coalition partners are fantastic," Captain
Harlow said. "They help us set up the aircraft, care for the
patients … anything we need. We work side by side with them
and they are outstanding."
The Aussies, along with the United States and the Royal Air
Force, fly C-130J aircraft in this deployed coalition
Litters are stacked, bunk-bed style, in the cargo aircraft. The
crew and medics wear body armor and Kevlar helmets for most of the
15-hour mission days, even while tending to patients.
Operating out of the Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest
Asia, the joint RAAF and Air Force missions are seamlessly
performed. Both Australian and American crewmembers find great
satisfaction in helping injured servicemembers make their way
"This is by far the best job I could ever have," Captain Harlow
said. "These men and women are out there defending our country,
risking their lives every day. There’s no better feeling than
giving them the care they need."
This care wouldn’t be possible without the skillful
Australian aircrew in charge of maneuvering the giant flying
ambulance through a war zone and back.
"Our goal is to get
everyone where they need to be, safely. We control the movement of
passengers and patients on and off of the aircraft, and take care
of any emergency that might occur," said Sgt. Scott Copland, RAAF
loadmaster. "We enjoy working on these missions. It’s
important work and it builds a good foundation for us with our
The RAAF flies mercy missions whenever possible.
"It’s a mission we want to do," said Wing Commander
Alistair Dally, commander of the RAAF forward command element here.
"It’s a tangible contribution that fits well beside our
national tasking commitments, and we intend to keep it up."
Commander Dally contends that carrying patients, rather than
cargo, is an especially gratifying contribution.
"It’s not like moving a pallet somewhere, not ever knowing
what happens to it," he said. "We are moving real people here --
people who are hurt and need to get to a hospital or to their home.
It’s very satisfying to be able to provide this service."
Combining coalition forces in the effort makes it even more
meaningful to the crews involved.
"It’s an honor to work with our coalition partners,"
Sergeant Copland said. "Showcasing our Australian spirit is
important to us, and it feels even better when we are able to lend
a helping hand. After all, you can always count on your
(Aero-News salutes Staff Sgt. Melissa Koskovich, US Central
Command Air Forces Public Affairs)