Profiles of a Dustoff 57, medevac team in Afghanistan

For soldiers torn apart by battle wounds, video teleconferencing allows medics and surgeons to better coordinate care from the war zone and across continents
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 8:37 PM

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WILSON, AFGHANISTAN - "Finding the mission" is easier for some than for others deep in Taliban territory. For the Dustoff 57 crew, it's pretty clear.

Run to the helicopter. Don't ever waste a minute because there might be someone almost dead waiting for you to arrive. Fly fast and safe. Guard the aircraft. Pick up the patients. Keep them - soldier, enemy or civilian, man or woman, adult or child - alive until the helicopter, flown fast and safe, gets to the hospital.

"We see the direct effects of what we do every day. In that sense, our mission is very simple and easy to find," says Capt. Amy Bauer, Dustoff 57's 26-year-old pilot-in-command.

She's a realist, though: "For the ground elements, I believe it's a bit more difficult." After a long pause, she adds, "Much, much more difficult."

The stated mission for NATO forces here is to clear the Taliban from Kandahar province "with our Afghan partners" and then to "hold" and "build." For most of the ground troops, Bauer believes, the mission is found in loyalty to the person walking beside or behind you and, slightly more abstractly and distantly, in protection of family and home.

Finding the mission is a mixture of what they say and what you think. What's certain is that everyone has to find it in order to get up each day and do a job where you might get killed. That's what Bauer was taught at West Point and what she' has learned here.

Dustoff 57 is the call sign for this medevac crew operating in the Arghandab River valley, a green stripe in a brown desert in southern Afghanistan. This "medical asset" was put here in September in anticipation of increased casualties in Operation Dragon Strike, the autumn campaign against the Taliban on its traditional home ground.

What follows is how the members of Dustoff 57 found their own missions.

'Very busy,' even still

Bauer's father was in the Air Force, and she grew up all over the country. She spent her middle and high school years in Medfield, Mass., where her father retired. Her mother lives in New Hampshire. For now, she calls New England home.

Math was her strongest subject; she was on the swim team; and she says she "was very busy" in high school, by which she means she was disciplined and didn't waste time. She applied to Dartmouth, Tufts, the University of Massachusetts and West Point. Right before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she heard she'd gotten into West Point. Right after them, she decided to go.

She majored in environmental engineering. (When she gets out of the Army in 31/2 years, she'd like to earn a master's in the subject and perhaps work on water projects in the developing world.) She was on the triathlon team and captained it her senior year. That year she also decided to try for aviation, the most selective branch of the Army for West Point graduates. She was in the top 10 in her class of 1,000; she got in.

She is modest. When a new flight crew arrives and the subject of where people went to college comes up one evening, she says she went to a "small college in the Hudson Valley, in New York." It's a few days before most people know it's West Point.

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