FORT POLK, La. –
Editor's note: Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital has a very special relationship with Charlie Company, “Cajun Dustoff”, 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment. The tireless efforts of the MEDEVAC pilots and crew members support our medical readiness mission and enable us to provide the best to our beneficiaries.
The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk's Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment has a new leader following a change of command ceremony at Polk Army Airfield Aug. 19.
The outgoing commander, Maj. Ralph Salazar, relinquished command to Maj. Christopher DiMaio, in front of aviators, medical leaders, families and friends.
Charlie Company, affectionately referred, to as “Cajun Dustoff”, provides 24-hour air medical evacuation support to JRTC, Fort Polk and the surrounding community, 365 days per year.
According the article, “Matching tradition: 'Dustoff' lifts patient care to higher level.” The moniker arose, in part during the Vietnam War because of the clouds of dust that would billow up when the helicopters took off or landed. All medical evacuation units have assumed the call sign “dustoff” since then.
Throughout military history, unit colors have marked the position of the commander on the battlefield and served as a rallying point in times of confusion. Now, the colors symbolize the authority of the command. During the change of command ceremony, the passing of the colors represents the transfer of authority between commanders.
In the heat and humidity associated with summer in the south, Salazar passed the unit colors to Lt. Col. JD Swinney, commander, 1-5 AVN Regt., indicative of handing over his responsibility and authority. Swinney then passed the colors to DiMaio charging him with the same responsibilities and authority.
Swinney recognized the achievements of Salazar and welcomed DiMaio. He acknowledged the challenges faced by “Cajun Dustoff” and the importance of their mission.
“This unit puts themselves in danger every day to save our fighting forces. They answer the call daily to fly in marginal weather, faced with fatigue and to fight through the confusion that comes with medical emergencies and rapidly changing situations. They know if they get it wrong the patient will suffer,” Swinney said. “Soldiers passing through JRTC, the families and children of the Fort Polk team and the citizens of Central Louisiana all look to ‘Cajun Dustoff’ to carry them to safety when no other means are available.”
Swinney told the formation of Soldiers that their daily exploits are a reminder of why Soldiers do what they do each day for their country.
The outgoing commander, Maj. Ralph Salazar, thanked his family and his faith for supporting him during his tenure.
“When I took command, I thought to myself, ‘no one is shooting at me,’ how hard can it be? I was quickly humbled,” he said. “Being part of this organization is somewhat like a deployment. Most of us spend 100 nights per year in the hanger with another 100 nights on call. In spite of the rigor, I doubt there is a team-member among us who doesn’t love their job and this unit as much as I have.”
Salazar said during his command there were 262 patients evacuated, with 60 that were urgent trauma. According to Salazar this MEDEVAC company has flown more trauma and acute critical care patients than the other 13 active duty units combined.
“The 262 represents the Soldiers and civilians who would have lost life, limb or eyesight if we hadn’t been willing to brave the weather, fly deep into the night or cancel the one date night we may have tried to schedule that month when we had to surge a third crew,” he said. “I suppose the only number that really matters is one. Each and every one – through the efforts of the ‘Cajun Dustoff’ team, one more Soldier returned to duty, one more child got to go home to their parents, one more life was saved and families and friends spared of grief.”
Salazar said there is only one word to describe the unit: perseverance.
“Relying on each other when we are tired or scared,” he said. “Everyone on the team is pivotal, necessary and plays a vital role in life or death situations. Whether it was the loss of your commander, Maj. Trevor Joseph in 2019, the force of two hurricanes, an ice storm of biblical proportions or a global pandemic that claimed the lives of some of our family members… you fought through.”
As Salazar signed out for the last time as the company commander, he said leading them was the privilege of his life.
Maj. Christopher DiMaio, the new commander kept his remarks traditionally short. He said assuming command is the greatest honor and privilege of an officer and he thanked his senior leaders, mentors and family.
“I am honored to serve alongside and after the Soldiers that have contributed to establishing this distinct unit,” he said. “I would like to affirm to the ‘Cajun Dustoff’ family my commitment and selfless service to you, your families and our mission of dedicated, unhesitating support to our fighting forces and the Fort Polk community.”