BANGOR, Maine — They go into harm’s way to pull out injured soldiers and they go to the top of Mount Katahdin to rescue hikers, and now the Bangor-based Army National Guard medevac unit will have six new Black Hawk helicopters to get the job done even faster.
“They’re awesome,” Lt. Col. Mark Sullivan, who is part of the Army Aviation Support Facility in Bangor, said Wednesday of the new HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters.
The 126th Aviation Medevac unit — known as the “Black Bears” — have a relatively new partnership with the Oregon-based 158th Aviation Medevac unit and have received three of six medically equipped stealth helicopters through the co-venture.
“The new HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters provide improved medical evacuation to injured patients and military personnel,” Capt. Shanon Cotta, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard, said in a press release. “This permits the rapid transport of seriously injured persons, particularly trauma patients, from the scene of an accident or battlefield.”
The Black Hawk, nicknamed the Night Stalker, became legendary when two went down in Somalia in 1993 and U.S. Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, 33, from Lincoln, and fellow Delta commando Randall Shughart, were killed in action while defending the crew. Their efforts were made into a movie, “Black Hawk Down,” and Gordon and Shughart each were awarded a Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest honor for bravery — posthumously.
The approximately $20 million to $24 million dollar tool has added guidance equipment that greatly enhances the pilot’s capabilities, Sullivan said.
“We spend less time flying the helicopter and more time worrying about the mission,” the lieutenant colonel said.
The Black Hawks already in or heading to Bangor are multimission medevac helicopters specially equipped for medical evacuations, the maker’s website states.
“The HH-60M Medevac helicopter provides comprehensive modern medical care from the injury site while en route to a distant hospital,” according to manufacturer Sikorsky’s website. “Onboard systems include environmental control system, oxygen generating system, en route medical care, suction, patient monitors, and an external electrical rescue hoist.”
The specialized flying gear allows the helicopter to fly all over the state in all types of bad weather, Sullivan said, which is important because the Maine Army National Guard routinely supports high altitude and isolated medical evacuations in places such as Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park.
The co-venture between the Maine and Oregon units is “a net gain of zero” that ensures both states always have a medevac unit available, Sullivan said.
The 126th deployed in February to Kuwait accompanied by members of Oregon’s 158th, and there are members of the 158th, who are Maine soldiers, serving in Bangor.
“When one of our medevac companies is gone, we still have a medevac unit,” to cover the two states, Sullivan said. Using Black Hawk helicopters, the 126th picked up and treated more than 650 patients — including some military working dogs — with injuries that ranged from extreme combat trauma to broken fingers during their last deployment to Iraq in 2008, unit commander Maj. Mark Stevens said just before the unit’s 102 citizen soldiers departed earlier this year.