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Francis Cicchini – Fencer and Soldier

Airborne medics come to the rescue after rocket attack

COP CALLAHAN, Baghdad – The rocket attack occured at 6:30 in the morning. Spc. Ian Paat was in bed, sleeping, when the first explosion jarred him awake.
“It was as loud as anything I’ve heard,” said Paat, a medic from North Hollywood, Calif.

Paat and his bunk mate and fellow medic, Pfc. Paul Jordan, of Atlanta, flew out of their bunks and immediately grabbed their medical aid bags. As they moved in the direction of the blast, they heard shouting.

Paat led the way, with Jordan a few steps behind. Out in the hall, it was chaos. Smoke and dust filled the air. Coalition Outpost Callahan had been hit by a barrage of rockets, and several had penetrated the walls. In the next room, a beam of sunlight was shining through a hole that a rocket had punched through the wall. Beneath it, two paratroopers were lying on the ground.

Paat began treating the first casualty. Jordan arrived moments later. He saw a crowd hovering around the other wounded paratrooper, shouting for a medic. As Jordan pushed forward, he saw that the paratrooper had severe leg wounds.

It was the moment every medic spends his career preparing for, while hoping it never comes. A fellow soldier’s life was on the line. Jordan, 23, on his first deployment and a medic for only six months, had never seen such a severe injury. But he didn’t hesitate to act.

“I just went back to my training. The only thing I saw was the injury. I just focused on what I had to do to treat it, and put everything else out of my mind” Jordan said.

The attack on May 1 wounded four paratroopers – one severely – but thanks to the quick reactions of Jordan, Paat and the other medics from Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, no lives were lost.

“I couldn’t have been prouder about the way the medics performed,” said battalion surgeon Capt. Naveed Naz, of Potomac, Md. “They definitely saved the day.” 

Everyone who reacted to the crisis, from the first responders, to the treatment team, to the pilots who evacuated the wounded, contributed to saving the critically wounded paratrooper’s life, said San Luis Obispo, Calif. native 1st Lt. Francis Ciccini, the medical platoon leader for the battalion.

“They did everything right,” Ciccinni said. “And doing everything right that day definitely saved his life.”

At the scene of the impact, Jordan immediately went to work trying to stop the casualty’s bleeding. Paat rushed over to help. Together, they applied tourniquets to both the wounded paratrooper’s legs.

As Paat and Jordan worked furiously to stabilize the patient, two floors beneath them, treatment team leader Sgt. Phillip Saavedra, from Whittier, Calif., was readying the aid station to receive casualties. He had rushed there as soon as he heard the blast, not knowing what to expect. Then the first casualty arrived, carried there on Spc. Daniel Welter’s back.

A rocket that hit on the third floor had sprayed shrapnel around the wounded paratroopers’ eyes. Welter, a platoon medic from Monticello, Iowa, picked up the temporarily blinded Soldier and carried him piggy-back style to the aid station.

As Saavedra was laying him on an examining table, another wounded paratrooper was brought in. Both casualties had relatively minor wounds. Saavedra breathed a sigh of relief. He had feared there might be worse injuries. But just then, the paratrooper with the serious leg wounds was brought in.  

As soon as he saw who it was, Saavedra’s heart dropped. The wounded paratrooper was a friend of his. Saavedra had to fight to keep his emotions in check as he began treating his wounds.

“It sucks working on your friends,” he said. “You can’t let it get to you. You’ve got to just block it out.”

The medevac helicopters were already on their way. Saavedra’s job was to keep the patients stable until the birds arrived. He and his team worked around the wounded paratroopers, giving them fluids and drugs and talking to keep them from going into shock. 

From inside the aid station, the medics could hear the helicopters landing. The birds hadn’t even settled on the ground as the medics were on the move, rushing out to the landing zone with the patients on litters.

Within a half hour of the start of the attack, all the wounded had been loaded onto helicopters and evacuated for further treatment.

“That was probably the quickest that we’ve ever treated and evacuated someone out of here,” Ciccini said.

As soon as the helicopters were in the air, all the emotions Jordan had been blocking out started to hit him.

“I just felt so bad. I knew there was nothing more I could have done, but . . . I wanted to make sure everyone went home alive and in one piece,” Jordan said. “He’s alive, but I’d feel a whole lot better if he was whole.”

Despite Jordan’s doubts, Ciccini said the performance of the medics was exceptional that day.

“The medical platoon is kind of like a spare tire,” he said. “Sometimes it’s in the way, but when you need it, you expect it to work. And the guys were working that day.”