Afghanistan Dispatch

For Army Medevacs, Hearts And Minds Are No Cliche

In October, NPR photographer David Gilkey spent a few weeks with the Army medevac team known as "Lucky Dustoff." They are members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, currently deployed in southern Afghanistan's Zabul province.

It's their job to evacuate anyone on the battlefield as quickly as possible, whether it's an American soldier, a NATO troop or a local Afghan. While embedded with them, Gilkey watched them take a badly burned Afghan girl from her father and treat her many feet in the air.

"I think that nothing is going to help us make the people of Afghanistan understand we are here to help more than when we go in there and pick up some guy's daughter," says Chief Warrant Officer Jim Drake, one of the pilots. "When we help her, and she gets better ... I think that does a lot for the whole cliche, the hearts and minds thing."

The medevacs, who carry out their duties unarmed, say they don't discriminate in their evacuations. That means they could potentially be treating a member of the Taliban and an American soldier side by side in the small helicopter. They carefully navigate so as not to upset their patients' injuries, flying in low light and massive dust clouds if need be.

"It's nice to be on the helping end," Drake explained after a mission, echoing the sentiments of many of the other men.

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