Dust-off RJ MacDonald

Incoming beat of helicopter rotors
Whipping sand-laden air into
The hot pulse of a Blackhawk
Flaring with indecent haste
A mess of stinging downwash.

Whirlwind revealing wounded man
Bloody sleeve, grimaced pain
An arm beacons me into action.

A wannabe hero
Discovering a stained, battered pack
A lowly baggage handler
Following blood on the sand.

I turn to go.

An urgent tug on my sleeve
A gloved hand points to where
Rotors pound out the backbeat.

Underneath rotating blades
A bulging body-bag, frightening bloody
Dragging a heavy burden
Mute, compliant, deadweight.

Gravity takes a hold, pulling down
Towards to an impatient grave
Strap cutting painfully into skin
It’s irrelevant
I’m carrying a fellow soldier.

Notes: Dust-off is the American call sign given to helicopters who scoop up battlefield causalities, they are tasked on the spur of the moment, responding to urgency on the ground (as opposed to Casevac/Medivac/MERT flights, which are dedicated red crossed-marked helicopters with flight medics on board). Blackhawks were the ubiquitous utility helicopter used by American forces.

I don’t know why the Dust-off landed at Sather Air Force Base, Baghdad. It wasn’t where the primary medical emergency centre was located, and I never saw it happen again. The entire incident was over in a few minutes.

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