45th Medical Company (Air Ambulance).
The 45th traces its early lineage back to World War II and Korea, when it was first constituted on 20 August 1943 as the 45th Veterinary Company and activated in Italy on 16 July 1944. After the war, the 45th was inactivated while still in Germany around February 1946. During the mobilization for the Korean conflict, the 45th guidon was again raised when it was redesignated the 45th Medical Collecting Company, (Separate) on 31 July 1951 and activated at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, on 9 August 1951. This was short-lived as the unit was inactivated just over a year later on 15 August 1952 without ever deploying to Korea. (1)
The company's history as an Air Ambulance unit began when it was again resurrected by the Army as the 45th Medical Company (AA) in June 1960 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It served in a variety of locations before finally winding up in Vietnam in 1967. As the war spun down to its conclusion, US forces were drawn down and the company was inactivated in Vietnam on 30 April 1971. The unit was again activated as an Air Ambulance Company in Germany on 16 October 1988, where it remains on active duty today. (1) The company will soon reorganize under Aviation Transformation, becoming Charlie Company (Medevac) in the General Support Aviation Battalion as part of the Multi-Functional Aviation Brigade in Ansbach Germany. This reflagging action is scheduled for April 2006.
Because of the Second Berlin Crisis, the 45th Medical Company (AA) was ordered from Fort Benning to Germany in October 1961 where it spent 18 months. The 21st Medical Platoon (AA), which had been stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, became the Third Platoon of the 45th Medical Company on 5 April 1961. In Germany, the Third Platoon was located at Schweinfurt. The Headquarters and the Second Platoon were at Greisheim Army Airfield near Darmstadt, the Fourth Platoon was located at Illesheim, and the First Platoon was at Wertheim. While in Germany, the unit was equipped with H-19D and a few UH-1B helicopters. During most of its European deployment, the 45th was seriously undermanned and ill equipped.
The 45th returned to Fort Bragg in April 1963. From then until it deployed to Vietnam in July 1967, the unit was equipped at what would now be considered a C-5 rating for personnel and equipment. It received a hodgepodge of H-19 and sometimes UH-1 aircraft that came and went based on shifting Army priorities. The 45th participated in various exercises while it struggled to cobble together a cohesive unit.
Upon deploying to Vietnam in July 1967, it received a full complement of 25 UH-1H's. While temporarily located at Bien Hoa, several pilots were exchanged for pilots from other units who had Vietnam flight experience; the Vietnam War version of a right-seat ride and transfer of authority. The unit eventually arrived at Long Binh adjacent to the 24th Evacuation Hospital and became fully operational by September 1967. The unit provided support within III and IV Corps tactical zones. It supported not only US troops but Korean, Australian, and New Zealand Forces, as well as South Vietnamese units. (2) It was during this period that CW3 Michael Novosel was assigned to the 82nd Medical Detachment under the 45th Medical Company. His heroic actions earned the second Medal of Honor awarded to a MEDEVAC pilot in Vietnam. ((2)(pg 96)) The company was heavily involved in both the US and South Vietnamese operations in Cambodia during April-June 1970. As Vietnamization proceeded and the war wound down, the ratios of US/Allied casualties as compared to RVN and civilian casualties changed. In 1969, the ratio was about 30% US and Allies to 70% RVN and civilians. By the time the unit was inactivated in April 1971, the ratio was down to 10% and 90% respectively. In the spring of 1971, the company was deactivated as the war in Vietnam began to draw down. (3)
The ever-changing Army in Europe included a significant reorganization of Army medical units in Germany in the late 1980s. On October 16, 1988, the 421st Medical Company was redesignated a medical evacuation battalion, subordinate to the 30th Medical Brigade. (4) The 45th Medical Company again returned to Germany for the third time and was reformed and assigned to the 421st. (5) The 45th served in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm; the first war with Iraq. It was among the first units from US Army Europe (USAREUR) to deploy to Saudi Arabia. The 45th deployed in August 1990 executing what remains as the longest helicopter self-deployment in Army history. That is, the unit flew its UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters from Darmstadt, Germany, to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, without US Air Force military airlift. This freed critical space that the Air Force needed to deploy other units to the theater. The historic deployment of 12 aircraft began on August 20, 1990, with the first set of six crossing the Alps to Brindisi, on Italy's southern coast. On day 2 and 3 they went to Athens. Day 4 took them to Cyprus, day 5 to Cairo West and day 6 to Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. Day 7 saw them arrive in Riyadh and on day 8 they safely arrived at their final destination in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. (6)
The company began its mission in August 1990, supporting the 82nd Airborne Division and the 24th Infantry Division at Assembly Area Vidallia. On 15 December, the unit was chopped to Army Central Command's (ARCENT's) Medical Command as an Echelons Above Corps (EAC) asset to provide hospital ship mission coverage in the gulf. During EAC operations on 25 February, the unit responded to the SCUD missile attack mass casualty in Dhahran which caused over 130 casualties and 28 deaths. The unit also operated 3 forward support teams at Bahrain, Jubail, and King Khalid Military City while maintaining a 6 aircraft Area Support Section at Dhahran. During this time, the unit moved patients from key airheads into EAC hospitals and to the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort.
Following Desert Storm, the 45th returned to Germany and shortly thereafter, it deployed to Somalia, serving there from May through August 1993. During this time, the 45th supported the UN humanitarian relief operations as well as operations against Somali warlord militias. Elements of the 45th redeployed from Operation Restore Hope in August 1993 and returned to duty in Germany supporting training primarily at Grafenwohr and Hohenfels.
During the initial support for the Dayton Peace Accords, the 45th deployed a Forward Support MEDEVAC Team (FSMT) of three aircraft, and along with an FSMT from the 159th Medical Company (AA), creating a 21-helicopter company under the command of the 236th Medical Company (AA). (7) In October 1996, the 45th, recovering the 3-ship FSMT, deployed 15 helicopters to replace the 236th Medical Company (AA) as part of the Covering Force for Operation Joint Endeavor, the US contingent of NATO's IFOR in the Balkans. By November 1996, the number of US troops dropped from 8,500 to 5,300 as the IFOR Covering Force transitioned to the SFOR. The American participation changed to Operation Joint Guard. During the 6 month rotation, the 45th operated aircraft from three locations: Kaposjulak, Hungery; Slavonski Brod, Croatia, and Tuzla, Bosnia. The 45th headquarters remained near Tuzla, co-located with the Norwegian Medical Company in what was known as the "Blue Factory" (the name was derived from a nearby Bosnian truck stop painted a faded blue). At the end of the first SFOR rotation, the 45th returned to Germany in April 1997. The company's support of the IFOR Covering Force and SFOR earned the unit the Army Superior Unit Award. (8) The 45th would again be called back to the Balkans in 1999. This time, it was Kosovo and support of the NATO led KFOR. The company deployed to the region and provided support from 2 locations: Skopje, Macedonia, and Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. At the end of the first KFOR, the 45th returned to duty in Germany and later, in 2002, the unit returned to Kosovo for a second tour. The 45th participated in four separate deployments in support of NATO during the 1990's but they did not mark the last time the 45th would be called upon to support NATO in contingency operations. (9)
During the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, in the spring of 2003, the 45th was alerted to begin preparations for deployment to Turkey as part of the 4th Infantry Division's northern operations into Iraq. Advance party elements had already arrived on the ground in Turkey when those plans were aborted and the company was told to stand down. Later in September of 2003, the unit was directed to prepare for a December deployment to Iraq of 12 helicopters and an October deployment of 3 helicopters and crews to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. This afforded the company less than 2 weeks notice for the ISAF mission and cut the normal company by a fifth for its deployment to OIF in December. The ISAF deployment to Afghanistan again demonstrated the abilities of the 45th in supporting NATO forces. This was the third time the unit was called upon to work with NATO in contingency operations (IFOR/SFOR, KFOR and ISAF). The Forward Support MEDEVAC Team performed flawlessly and the mission has continued under various units up to the present day supporting the NATO forces deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. (9)
During the deployment in support of OIF II, the 45th was deployed first to Baghdad International Airport and then moved to Camp Cooke near the city of Taji. During the entire deployment, the unit operated inside the area that became the heart of the counter-insurgency. The uprisings at Najaf and Tikrit, as well as the operation to take back the city of Falluja, were all directly in the company's zone of support. The 45th acquitted itself admirably and did true homage to its Dustoff history. During the year-long deployment, the unit flew over 4000 hours and evacuated over 1500 patients--a record only rivaled in the units history with its time in Vietnam. During the same period, while flying in the most hostile environment in the theater, the company did not lose a single aircraft to enemy fire or aviation accidents. (9)
Throughout these last 40 years, the 45th Medical Company has consistently lived up to the reputation first established over the killing fields of Vietnam. The geography has changed, but the desire to complete the mission hasn't. The 45th has performed lifesaving missions in the USA, the Far East, Southwest Asia, Africa, Central Europe, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. From its history in Vietnam up through an expected return to Iraq in its future, the 45th will continue to demonstrate a complete commitment to the DUSTOFF motto: Dedicated, Unhesitating Support To Our Fighting Forces.
(1.) Center for Military History, Lineage and Honors, 45th Medical Company (Washington, D.C. Center for Military History).
(2.) Dorland, Peter and James Nanney, DUST OFF: Army Aeromedical Evacuation in Vietnam (Washington, D.C. Center for Military History, 1982) 55.
(3.) Center for Military History, Lineage and Honors, 45th Medical Company (Washington, D.C. Center for Military History).
(4.) Center for Military History, Lineage and Honors, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment 421st Medical Battalion (Washington, D.C. Center for Military History, 27 August 1996).
(5.) Center for Military History, Lineage and Honors, 45th Medical Company (Washington, D.C. Center for Military History).
(6.) 45th Medical Company, "Darmstadt to Dhahran: MEDEVAC Self-Deployment to Desert Shield" (The Journal of the Army Medical Department, PB 8-92-9/10, September/October 1992), 51-54.
(7.) Unit Records, Katterbach Army Airfield, Germany, as of August, 2005.
(8.) Department of the Army, Memorandum Subject: Army Superior Unit Award for Task Force Eagle, (Washington, D.C. PERSCOM, 19 January 1999).
(9.) Unit Records, Katterbach Army Airfield, Germany, as of August, 2005.
Major Robert A. Kneeland is Commander of the 45th Medical Company (AA) in Ansbach, Germany.
Major Andrew Risio is the Battalion S3 for the 421st Medical Evacuation Battalion in Wiesbaden, Germany.
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|Author:||Kneeland, Robert A.; Risio, Andrew|
|Publication:||U.S. Army Medical Department Journal|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
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