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3 Things You Never Knew About US Army MEDEVAC

May 15, 2018

During the latter part of World War II in the Burmese theater of conflict, Japanese forces were still engaged in fierce fighting against British, American, and Chinese forces in the only land-based conflict which lasted throughout the entire war. Southeast Asia had already been wrecked by years of war, and for much of that time, Japanese forces held the upper hand.

In the war's latter stages however, the tide began to turn as coordinated Allied forces gained air superiority which could not be matched by weakening Japanese forces. It was at this time in history that MEDEVAC was born—the ingenious practice of conducting medical evacuations of wounded soldiers by helicopter to combat support hospitals behind the front lines. Beginning in April 1944, Allied lives could be saved in the violent Burmese conflict by removing critically injured soldiers from the scene of battle to nearby treatment centers where medical care was provided.

Since that time, the process has been refined to include medical personnel in the rescue helicopters, as well as some commonly needed emergency medical equipment. However, the fundamental idea has always remained the same, and it still provides invaluable service to American troops stationed in hotspot zones around the world. Afghanistan, for instance, has seen heavy involvement of Medevac units to help save lives of those in combat areas. 

Medevac Fact #1

This isn't exactly a secret, but you may not have known that under the terms of the Geneva Convention, it is considered a war crime to fire upon a Medevac unit attempting to remove the wounded from battle. The Medevac crew itself may or may not be armed to defend itself, but no hostile forces are allowed to fire at a Medevac helicopter which has been clearly marked to identify itself as a medical unit rather than one for combat. 

Medevac Fact #2

As mentioned above, the initial use of helicopters to transport wounded soldiers to field hospitals began in the Pacific Theater during World War II. But the first dedicated use of helicopters for transporting the wounded actually began in the Korean War. From 1950–1953, approximately 20,000 soldiers were air-lifted to safety to receive medical care. The helicopters used during this conflict had notoriously small cockpits, however, which required crews to transport the wounded in medical stretchers affixed just above the landing skids.

Medevac Fact #3

By the time of the Vietnam War, medical helicopters had advanced to the point where on-board personnel could begin treating critically wounded soldiers before they arrived at field hospitals. This resulted in a significant improvement in the death rate of rescued soldiers. Whereas in World War II, the death rate was about 4.5/100 soldiers and in Korea, 2.5/100, yet by the time of the Vietnam War that number fell to 1/100—a clear indication of improved immediate care for the wounded.

A Military Success Story

Since its inception, the Medevac process has continually improved and promises to achieve even greater life-saving success. A procedure is being developed currently to hold internal bleeding in check by the injection of two foam polymers at the site of an injury, so no further damage occurs until the victim reaches a hospital. These injections would be administered by trained Medevac personnel in-flight. Since this kind of injury accounts for up to 85% of present-day combat injuries, the outlook is good for saving many more lives.

As long as there are battles between nations, it's comforting to know that Medevac will be available, battling to save lives.

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