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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah National Guard trains intensely for the battlefield. One unit is also training to use battlefield skills here at home in Utah.
"I finally get to do something for the people that have supported us when we've been overseas," said Chief Warrant Officer Evan Ahlborn. He's a Medevac pilot with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation MEDEVAC.
It's been 20 years since the Utah National Guard used its helicopters for search and rescue. Now three of the unit's Blackhawk helicopters are rigged with hoists, and they're training to answer the call.
In Iraq, they fought the enemy. "We used to be an air assault detachment that just deployed to Iraq in 2010," Ahlborn said.
Now, Charlie Company trains to save the wounded on the battlefield, but also fellow Utahns in trouble. "The blackhawk is a great platform," the helicopter pilot said. "It has a lot of power, it can fly at very high altitudes, and lift quite a bit of weight."
In fact, it can fly to 12,000 feet, and handle 600 pounds at the end of the 200 foot line on the hoist. When a natural disaster strikes at home or a hiker is stranded high in the mountains, they can help.
It really makes you feel like you're doing something that matters.
–Staff Sgt. Fox Larsen
"It really makes you feel like you're doing something that matters," said Staff Sgt. Fox Larsen, a flight medic with Charlie Company. "We can hoist off of King's Peak, if we need to in the middle of the night, during inclement weather, and be able to deliver critical care the entire way back.
"These are significant emotional events for families," said pilot Capt. Penny Matthews. "It's a significant emotional event for us as a crew as well, because you never know what you're going to encounter."
Nearly all of the members of this unit have deployed at least once to either Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years. They're looking forward to helping out the people here in the state of Utah.
"I've deployed four times with the Utah National Guard," Ahlborn said. "So, to me it's very rewarding to be in a position where my mission is supporting the state and the local populace."
LifeFlight and Airmed will always get the first call because they're staffed for a quicker response.
"Anything that is above and beyond what they're able to do, or a more prolonged situation, that's when we would be requested to go in and assist," Ahlborn said.
He also said that there's an incredible amount of teamwork involved, which creates a sense of comradery.
"It makes you appreciate the people that you work with better," he said.
They're still three to six months away from running on search and rescues in Utah: They need to work out agreements with state and local agencies. In the meantime, they're getting more medics qualified. All flight medics will be trained as paramedics, meaning that they can work as nurses or paramedics as civilians as well.