Harrowing Work: The Amazing Fight to Save Lives in War, An Excerpt from Men's Health

Men's Health magazine reporter Bob Drury spent months embedded with the medics of the 54th Medical Company, based out of Fort Lewis, Wash., and stationed at Balad Air Base, 42 miles northwest of Baghdad, Iraq.

Here is an excerpt from an in-depth article he wrote for the magazine, which can be read in full at: http://www.menshealth.com/iraq

The call comes in at 1330 hours one recent hot, dusty afternoon in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. Ambush. A Humvee, call sign Hardrock Six, 3rd Infantry Division, hit flush by a rocket-propelled grenade. Two soldiers are down, one "urgent," one "priority." Urgent means loss of life, limb, or eyesight; priority means loss of blood. Precisely 5 minutes later, our UH-60 Black Hawk medevac lifts off from Balad Air Base, 12 miles away. It soars over the blue-tiled roof of the mosque personally designed by Saddam Hussein, banks left, and within seconds clears the concertina wire surrounding Logistical Support Area Anaconda.

"No matter how many times you do it, you still pucker once you get over the wire," says one of the helicopter's pilots, Chief Warrant Officer Lance Duensing. Duensing is handsome, square-jawed, towheaded -- not quite a buzz cut. He looks as if he'd prefer to be flushing quail near his home in the East Texas hill country. The pilot in command, Chief Warrant Officer Jackson Wood, his sunburned face as taut as a clenched fist, throttles the aircraft, the rotors drown out conversation, and we hurtle at 145 miles per hour toward the evacuation, or dust-off, site.

Near the Tigris River, the dull, silvery brown talc of the Iraqi desert turns greener, wetter, burgeoning into lush fields of corn and melon linked by irrigation ditches. Rows of date palms sprout in symmetrical patterns on both sides of the emerald waterway, each tree capable of concealing a man with a Kalashnikov assault rifle or a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. All eyes are outward except those of Specialist Elizabeth Shrode, the flight medic, who's busy arranging the blood supply and bandages. She rechecks the oxygen tanks. Beside her, crew chief Brandon King fingers his M-16 and scans the terrain below, his toe tapping nervously on the armor-plated floor.

From the rear seat, I steal another glance at the medic. Her brown hair is pulled back in a tight bun, and beneath her flight helmet, her dark eyeliner flatters an oval face with sharp, high cheekbones. Rifling through her first-aid kit, she appears the picture of serenity. I turn back toward the window. I pretend to be searching for snipers. It's an act. I am scared.

The 'Golden Hour'

This is a story about a pipeline. It begins with a bullet, a chunk of shrapnel, a percussive blast attempting to suck the life out of an American soldier somewhere in Mesopotamia, and culminates on a forested hilltop in Landstuhl, Germany. It is a story about the men and women who make this remarkable medical pipeline flow -- the pilots, medics, surgeons, mechanics, nurses, and litter bearers who reclaim the lives of young American soldiers who, if not for their care, would die on a battlefield far from home.

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