Steve Vermillion




Since the term "Dustoff" is a large part of who I am, this section on Dustoff is included on my webpage to give you insight as to what has shaped my values, my perspectives on life and my analytical processes. At age 19, I was learning to fly helicopters and at age 20, the Army turned me loose as an aircraft commander flying combat missions in an unarmed medical evacuation helicopter on a single ship basis, 24/7, all weather with the responsibility for a half million dollar aircraft and the lives of three crew-members, along with the total responsibility and decision making necessary to complete the mission.

The main purpose of the helicopter ambulance, call sign Dustoff, during the Vietnam War was to remove the combat casualty from the battlefield and deliver him to a medical station or hospital in the shortest time possible. Dustoff crews flew almost 500,000 missions and airlifted over 900,000 patients, nearly one half of them were American soldiers.

Helicopter ambulances did not carry armament as outlined in the Geneva Convention but the enemy showed no hesitation in firing on them even though they were clearly marked with red crosses on a white background. Gunships were hard to obtain for escort and crewmembers began to carry personal weapons for self protection. Some helicopter ambulance units started to carry a fifth crewmember as a 'patient protector' with an M-16 rifle but only the Air Ambulance Platoon of the 1st Cavalry Division mounted M-60 machine guns on the sides of their helicopters.

Dustoff missions presented some of the most dangerous flying for helicopter crews in Vietnam. With the increasing demand for hoist missions, the helicopter ambulances were even more vulnerable to enemy fire. The rate of crew casualties and aircraft losses grew alarmingly. A hovering helicopter presented itself as an easy and vulnerable target to the enemy below. The rate of loss to hostile fire was 3.3 times that of all other types of helicopter missions. Only the aero scout units suffered losses that were comparable to helicopter ambulance units.


I had the great priviledge of flying Dustoff from January 7, 1969 until January 7, 1970 Initially stationed in Lai Khe, located in what was termed the Iron Triangle area, with field standby locations in Dau Tieng.  Command opted to rotate our platoon back to Long Binh, 93d Evac Hospital, replacing us with a detachment.  The field standby's other than operations out of Long Binh proper, were Tan An and Xuan Loc spending about 35% of my year in each location.  I occasionally drew the Saigon standby flying out of the 3d Field Hospital location but that was a rare standby for me.


Flying these missions served to shape my personal values and beliefs.  To place ones life in harms way to save the life of another human being creates a perspective on life that most people have never experienced. With four lives at risk, plus those who we were supporting, I had to quickly learn to analyze situations with minimal and often conflicting information in order to mentally determine my mission profile, all under stress of battle and often compounded by weather and or darkness. Trust is often a word, lightly tossed about and  some people sometimes never experience the true meaning of trust.  But within our four man crew, trust meant that your word was your bond and that we I or my crew members said could be relied upon when placing our lives at risk--which we did every time we started the aircraft and departed on a mission.


In 2013, I was honored with my induction into the Dustoff Association Hall of Fame as their 33d member.  The Hall of Fame nomination is contained in its separate header listing above. .








Dustoff