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News | June 20, 2023

Mountain currency

By Spc. Nicole Blake

As UH-60 Black Hawk pilots navigated the sky from Concord to Berlin Regional Airport, crews loaded and unloaded notional casualties.

With multiple rows of staged medical mannequins, soldiers from Charlie, Delta and Echo Company, 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment (MEDEVAC), New Hampshire Army National Guard, practiced rapid medical response and casualty evacuation during their annual training from June 3 to 18.

“We are performing Downed Aircraft Recovery Team (DART) operations,” said Staff Sgt. John Cooney, a platoon sergeant with Charlie Company. “We’re providing fueling operations, as well as maintenance support for the helicopters if they break down.”

Aviation operations, medical, and maintenance personnel refined their Army skillsets throughout multiple iterations of life-like evacuation scenarios.

Staff Sgt. Joel Coelho, a medic squad leader with Charlie Company, was particularly grateful for the opportunity.

“The training area up here is so awesome,” he said. “We’re really lucky in New Hampshire because an hour north of us we fly along the mountains, an hour east along the coastline.”

When it comes to talent, the companies offer a range as equally diverse as New Hampshire's landscape.

“We have a variety of expertise here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joe Phinney, platoon sergeant and readiness NCO for Charlie Company. “Our soldiers provide both a civilian and military perspective. Many of them are EMTs, paramedics, and mechanics on the outside, which expands unit knowledge and our ability to train.”

Sitting at the edge of the White Mountains, Berlin’s airport provides the perfect location for medical evacuation and search and rescue training, while allowing the units to utilize a vacant armory minutes away.

“This is the first time we’ve ever set up an operation center at an airport other than Concord since I’ve been in the unit,” said Lt. Alex Hodsdon, a forward support medical platoon leader with Charlie Company. “We have an opportunity to set up in an austere environment and hone our medical treatment and aviation skills.”

Hodsdon explained that the local airport is usually only a site for refueling. He and other soldiers from the 238th are hopeful the NHARNG will build a training facility here, giving them the ability to regularly conduct offsite training.

“We’re operating away from the headquarters while providing MEDEVAC support to the local area,” Hodsdon said. “This expeditionary force site is great for training because it simulates current and future operations in combat.”

For Phinney, a 16-year aviation veteran, having an environment away from the main hangar is especially important.

“Mountain currency is vital to how we operate,” said Phinney, referring to the frequency and type of flying required. “Understanding how to navigate adverse weather and terrain is critical, particularly when the call comes in to assist Fish and Game with a search and rescue mission.”

The NHARNG medevac units have had a long-standing relationship with the state agency that goes back decades.

“Being here gives more real-world flight time,” Cooney said. “It allows me to teach a lot of the new soldiers how we operate in a deployment-like environment.”

Many of the soldiers are new to the unit, he added. “This training encompasses everything that we do. It doesn't get much better than this.”