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Help from Above: More than a slogan on a patch

  • Published
  • By Monte Miller
  • 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A warfighter has just been wounded on the battlefield. As seconds seem like hours they hear the whirl of a helicopter in the distance.

The next thing they know, there is a medic treating your wounds and taking them to safety and treatment.

Tech. Sgt. David Denton, 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, senior flight medic repeated this scenario many times during a six-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2007.

Because of his and the service of his fellow Air Force medics many lives have been saved.

For his actions on one unforgettable day, Sergeant Denton was honored by the Airlift/Tanker Association with its highest award the General P.K. Carlton Award for Valor at their annual convention last month.

As with most awards winners, Sergeant Denton is humbled by the recognition and was surprised he was picked to receive it.

"Yes, the award has my name on it," Sergeant Denton said. "It really goes out to all the medics. There were guys right there with me all day and did the same things I did. I just got picked. I just think of all of the other flight medics that came before me."

Sergeant Denton received the award for a particular day in Afghanistan where he and his fellow Air Mobility Command medics flew four missions and treated more than 40 people.

They got the call just a little before 7 p.m. Oct. 13 of last year.

A suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device he was wearing in a busy marketplace in the town of Spindudock, located south of Kandahar near the Pakistan border.

The blast instantly killed seven Afghani civilians and wounded 39 others.

When he received the call, Sergeant Denton was prepping a new medic for an orientation flight to get him accustomed to their mission of the 33rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron part of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Two helicopters left Kandahar en route to Spinbuldock where Sergeant Denton's CH-47 Chinook took on 10 casualties to transport back to a Canadian run hospital in Kandahar about 30 minutes away.

"We were treating people for traumatic injuries from the IED," Sergeant Denton explained. "We treated head and abdominal injuries, broken bones and had to control bleeding. We tied tourniquets, applied bandages, splinted arms and legs started intravenous fluids and administered oxygen to our patients."

Two army surgeons that were also on the Chinook with Sergeant Denton had a more critical patient in the back of the aircraft and were performing CPR.

After arriving at the hospital, Sergeant Denton and the crew picked up supplies, the chopper fueled and they headed back to Spinbuldock where they picked up eight more patients, which were transported back to the hospital.

After the second mission, Sergeant Denton and his crew were notified of a third mission.

This time they were tasked to airlift a U.S. servicemember from a forward operating base in Qalat on a HH-60 Pavehawk. The patient was suffering from a medical emergency and was stable but needed to get to a hospital faster than ground transportation would allow.

Before they even arrived in Qalat, the crew was notified of a fourth mission to another forward operating base. This one involved an Afghan military member, who had been shot in the abdomen.

Sergeant Denton and his crew offloaded their medical patient and headed to collect the gunshot victim.

"We controlled his bleeding, squeezed some fluids into him and kept him awake," Sergeant Denton said. "He had a pulse when we dropped him off at the hospital."

Seven and a half-hours and 20 patients later, Sergeant Denton's day was done. Although they were never able to confirm hostile fire, the multiple missions were conducted in a low illumination combat environment.

Although he won't admit it, this day was extraordinary. During his tour in Afghanistan, he flew just under 50 aeroevac missions treating a wide range of injuries and emergencies.

With a background in stateside aeromedical evacuation and work in a hospital emergency room, Sergeant Denton said his time deployed gave him a new opportunity.

"I'd go back and do it again in a heartbeat," he said. "It was the first time I got to practice front line medicine. In Aeroevac duty we deal with patients that are stable. A hospital or someone else before has seen them. This was my first time to pick up a patient with no bandages on them."

Sergeant Denton said the worst injuries he had to treat were the results of improvised explosive devices that exploded on a Canadian convoy where he and his fellow medics treated amputations and other traumatic injuries associated with blasts, vehicle rollovers and troops in contact.

Another treatment of an amputation by Sergeant Denton came when and Afghani woman was ordered to give a Taliban fighter food. When she refused the Taliban cut off her hand.

"There were times we were sent out to just pick up a body," Sergeant Denton said. "For those we would send two helicopters. One for the remains and a second for the wounded. This was my third deployment, so I knew that stuff was going to happen. The hardest part was picking up kids."

Sergeant Denton is second generation Air Force and has been in for 13 years serving nine as a flight medic. He has been at Scott for the past two years.

"I knew I was to do something in the medical profession," he said. "I've also always wanted to fly. I've been in 13 years and plan on staying in as long as they let me. I really don't think I'd change a thing. I had a chance to cross train and wanted to be a loadmaster or gunner, but my wife didn't like that idea."

In addition to Sergeant Denton, the 375th AES was also represented by Staff Sgt. Kevin Counts.

Air Mobility Command medics Tech. Sgt. Steven Thackery and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Falcon, both from the 43rd AES at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and Air Force reservist Tech Sgt. Dave Peacock, 315th AES based at Charleston AFB S.C., also served with Sergeant Denton during his deployment.

The Airlift/Tanker Association General P.K. Carlton Award for Valor is presented annually to an individual who demonstrates courage, strength, determination, bravery and fearlessness during a combat, contingency or humanitarian mission during the previous calendar year.