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Young Airmen experience draw down in Iraq

Reservists deploy for first time during historic period

Senior Airmen Marcello Yamaguchi, left, and Dylan Congrove await patients on board a C-130 Hercules medical evacuation mission in the Middle East in December. /Courtesy photo

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(446th AW PA) - Still in high school when the conflict in Iraq began, two Reservists fulfilled their quest to serve their country as that conflict ended.

Senior Airmen Dylan Congrove and Marcello Yamaguchi, medical technicians with the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, just returned from serving four months in Kuwait. They were attached to the 386th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, caring for wounded Servicemembers airlifted out of the war zone.

In their first deployment, the young Airmen put their training to use.

"When we train at home station, we mostly practice on dummies," said Congrove. "There it was real. The patients talk back to you and tell you what hurts. I've done patient care before in the emergency room, just never in the air like this deployment."

Congrove and Yamaguchi flew 28 missions, and transported about 80 patients all over the Middle East; flying them first to Kuwait, then on to Germany if they needed further care. Most missions were on a C-130. Only two missions were flown on the C-17.

"The C-130 is loud and slow," said Yamaguchi. "Being in the C-17 was a nice break from the C-130. We come from a C-17 unit, so we love the aircraft. It's like the Cadillac of the skies."

On one of the C-17 missions, Congrove said his most memorable patient was a 19-year-old Marine lance corporal who was critically injured. He was on his way to Germany for treatment. Congrove talked to him to ease his anxiety, telling him he was in good hands.

"It's good to see them going to Germany, because that's when they start to relax; you can see it in their face," said Congrove. "When we first pick them up, they are scared because they don't know what is going to happen to them. Once we are in the air, they calm down when they know they are no longer in the desert. They know they are on their way to more help."

"It was an honor and privilege to be there caring for our troops," said Congrove. "We were both in high school when the war started back in 2003, and never thought we would be a part of it."

They may not have been there when the conflict started, but they were also there for the draw down of forces in Iraq in December 2011.

"It felt like we were a part of history," they both stated in unison.

"It's hard to describe how honorable that feels," added Congrove.

Congrove, a Vancouver, Wash., native said he joined the Air Force Reserve because it is just something he always wanted to do.

"I always wanted serve my country," said Congrove. "I've heard great things about the Reserve from the people I know and decided it was the best way for me to go."

Yamaguchi's reasons for joining are different than his wing man. The Tacoma native originally wanted to join the Marine Corps, but when he went to the recruiting office they were "Out to lunch." The only recruiter available at the time was an Air Force Reserve recruiter. Yamaguchi said the recruiter stuck his head out of the office and asked if he could help him.

"He pulled me into his office, and sold the Air Force Reserve to me," said Yamaguchi. "He told me all the great things about the Reserve, and here I am. I also took it one step further and sold it to my sister; a senior at Yelm High School. She will be enlisting as soon as she graduates."

Two young senior airmen, both adolescents when the conflict began, are now seasoned military medical technicians.

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