NEWS | May 18, 2009

Flight crews fight weather to continue medical mission in Nicaragua

By Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Danet Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Day two of Joint Task Force-Bravo's first medical readiness mission to Nicaragua dawned bright and clear in Managua May 15.

But 80 miles to the north, the skies told a much different story.

For the aviators of the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, the turn in weather meant making the call between accomplishing the mission and getting everyone home safely. Fortunately, for the medics performing the MEDRETE -- and for the men, women and children of Ayapal -- the aviators were able to do both.

Taking off from Managua at 7 a.m., the helicopters met a wall of low clouds and rain that forced them to return to the capital. Just 70 minutes later and loaded with fresh fuel, the CH-47D Chinook and UH-60 Blackhawk took off again. The pilots found a break in the clouds and landed in Ayapal at 10:25 a.m., allowing the passengers to complete their medical mission.

As pilots, flight engineers, crew chiefs and medics, the 1-228th aviators are charged with flying people and supplies in support of commanders on the ground, said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Darren Scudder, a Blackhawk pilot.

The most difficult part of the job here in Central America is balancing mission requirements with the obstacles presented by the fluctuations in weather, said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nicholas Cerveny.

But the rewards outweigh the difficulties, he said.

"I like that we're supporting units that are making a difference in the community," Chief Cerveny said, "and increasing the standing of the United States among Central American countries."

That's exactly what the three flight crews are doing in Nicaragua this week. Two JTF-Bravo Blackhawks and one Chinook carried 34 Soldiers and Airmen here to perform two MEDRETEs in Ayapal and El Almendro May 13 -20. The medics are here to build partnerships within the region by bringing medical care to those most in need.

With the MEDRETE sites located in remote villages more than a 6-hour drive from the nation¬'s capital, the mission wouldn't be possible without the work of the 1-228th aviators. The fliers were able to put everyone and all of their equipment in place in less than 90 minutes.

"I love these guys," said Army Lt. Col. Richard Somers, mission commander. "They're all professionals and they always get us where we need to go with all our equipment."

In all, JTF-Bravo medical personnel saw more than 1,000 patients in Ayapal. Next, they'll move on to El Almendro where they expect to see more than 1,000 more.