Several Tennessee Army National Guard Soldiers from the 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion that is now part of Joint Base McGhee-Tyson in Knoxville, Tenn., were awarded the Sikorsky Rescue Award on July 10, for participating in three different lifesaving missions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park earlier this year.
The award was established to salute the men and women who endanger their own lives to save others wounded in combat, trapped by hurricanes, mud slides, earthquakes, avalanches or other natural disasters, and imperiled by accidents such as shipwrecks, according to the company website.
“To be eligible to receive the Sikorsky Rescue Award, an individual must have directly performed a lifesaving rescue in any Sikorsky helicopter,” said Shay Collins, a customer award program manager with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. The awards were presented by Tom Nicolette, a representative of Sikorsky Aircraft, and by Maj. Gen. Max Haston, Adjutant General for the Tennessee National Guard.
It can be more difficult to treat a patient in the air than on the ground.
“The space in which we work is confined and we only have what we bring with us to treat the patient,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Banta, a flight paramedic for more than 20 years with the Tennessee National Guard. “We have to be vigilant when checking off the aircraft and our medical equipment prior to assuming the mission.”
However, difficulties are not a deterrent.
“Having the ability to help people in their time of need is the greatest and most rewarding job I have ever had,” Banta added. He currently works full time for the Guard as a standardization instructor training crew chiefs and other flight paramedics. Banta keeps his medical skills sharp working part time as a paramedic in the civilian sector as well.
The Soldiers have participated in three separate rescue missions just this year. On March 30, 2016, the National Guard crew rescued a diabetic man from the Mount Cammerer Tower area. The MEDEVAC unit had only been at Joint Base McGhee-Tyson for a few months at the time of the incident.
On April 29, 2016, a hiker suffering from a lower leg injury sustained somewhere along the Ramsey Cascade Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park had to be airlifted. The Tennessee National Guard again flew to the rescue and transported the woman to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. About a week later, on May 7, the unit was activated again, rescuing another injured hiker, this time along the Boulevard Trail, who was also flown to UT Medical Center for further treatment.
Overall, eight Tennessee National Guard Soldiers have received the Sikorsky Rescue Award this year: Maryville, Tenn., residents Chief Warrant Office 4 Brad Hutsell and Staff Sgt. Giovanni Dezuani; Alcoa, Tenn., resident Sgt. John Sharbel; and Knoxville, Tenn., residents Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Jaggers, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andrew Cordray, Jr., Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Banta, Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Smith, and Staff Sgt. Doug Edmisten; as well as Sgt. Jason Bowen who has recently transferred to the Wyoming Army National Guard.
Sikorsky initiated the Winged-S Rescue Award Program in 1950 to honor all those who perform rescues flying a Sikorsky helicopter. Sikorsky helicopters have helped save an estimated 2 million lives since the first civilian helicopter rescue occurred in 1945.