July 17, 2008

Virginia Guard Soldiers head to Oklahoma to train on search and extraction

By Sgt. John Slosser
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

Sgt. Katy Trissel examines her equipment  in preparation for the Basic Search and Extraction Course. Six Soldiers from Charlie Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion travelled to Oklahoma City  to attend the week-long training.(Photo by Sgt. John Slosser, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Six Virginia National Guard Soldiers the spent the week of July 14 to 19 in Oklahoma City to participate in a civilian-lead basic search and extraction course. Participants in the Enhanced Response Force Package Basic Course are provided opportunities to develop skills with situations involving confined space structural collapses.

Five of the Soldiers are from the Charlottesville-based C Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, and one Soldier serves in  the Virginia Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and  Explosive  - Enhanced Response Force.

This course deals with basic rescue tool techniques and tactics of confined space entry, rope use, breaking and breaching, lifting and hauling and rigging. The training provides the Virginia National 
Guard and the State as a whole with a valuable tool in the event of a terrorist incident or natural disaster, said said Maj. Elena Scarbrough, Charlie Company commander.

The training also covers pre-hospital trauma life support where medical personnel learn how to treat and stabilize a patient as part of the search and extraction process.

The training follows a busy annual training period for the medical company where the line between their training and their “real-world-mission” is a constant blur.

 “We saw 700 Patients over the course of our Annual Training at Fort Pickett. We even provided dental and mental health services, and we only had about 30 people,” said Scarbrough.  “It was great because the line medics were able to get clinic experience and the clinic medics were out getting line experience.”

The commander openly boasts that the company has ‘grown’ more than 300 Combat Life Saver Soldiers throughout the 116th Brigade Combat Team. This not only expedites diagnosis and treatment to help save lives, it gives the medics greater time and flexibility to see and help more Soldiers, she said.

“Over AT we managed a roving ambulance that also helped distribute supplies to the CLS Soldiers.  What is cool is we can assess their skills and practice CLS sustainment at the same time,” said Scarbrough. “We even had patients (heat casualties) delivered to us in textbook perfect condition by our CLS troops.”

The unit treated a range of injuries and ailments, everything from blisters, tick bites and sprains, to broken limbs and cardiac evacuations. Many of the Soldiers of ‘Charlie Med’ share their commanders sentiments on the quality of their AT period. 

“When everybody out there at Fort Pickett is training, we are always doing our real-world mission. We might be training with them but when somebody gets hurt we have to take care of that person and get them wrapped up and to the hospital or back on the line,” said Sgt. Stephen Kisiah, Squad Leader for Treatment Platoon.

“We pulled medical coverage not only for the battalion but for all the joint forces down there,” she said. “It was really heavy hitting, pretty much 18 hour days making sure we had medical coverage for the ranges. We even covered 88 Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets. We got to play with them and give them some classes.  It was a lot of fun”

 “This unit is awesome.  They say they are like a family and they really are.  What I think I like about Charlie and being in medicine is we are always doing our jobs not just training,” said Spc. Clinton Elg, a prior service Soldier who transferred to Virginia  from Washington State. “It IS training but it’s our real work.  We can actually be saving lives.  We are so busy too, I mean I’m new but I’m helping to stick people with IVs or taking vitals.”

A common enemy to the troops of Fort Pickett caused more than one medic to joke at the environment they had to work in. Many Soldiers reported tick bites and had to visit the medics to follow the proper ‘post-bite’ procedures.

“The ticks at Fort Pickett were extremely aggressive and stealthy, I think they were their own branch… definitely clandestine.” Scarbrough said.

“Pickett Cong?  That’s what a lot of us starting calling the ticks,” laughed Elg. “They are sneaky and they are everywhere, you could be standing in the middle of the road and they would parachute onto you I think.”

The company will also send several troops to The Republic of Tajikistan as part of the State Partnership Program to coordinate with the country’s military healthcare professionals.

Even with the busy schedule and the high-level importance of their mission, the troops of Charlie Med seem to enjoy their comrades and the fruits of their labor.

“Generally people in medicine, really want to be there,” said Elg. “We’ve got people who are naturally compassionate and want to help and contribute. This is a great unit!”

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