June 17, 2005
By Sgt. John Slosser
BLACKSTONE, Va. -- The thumping of an approaching CH-47 Chinook helicopter gets louder as it clears the pines and races to settle into a grassy field. Ambulances and medics rush through the wind and the billowing dust to get to their patients. The medical unit swings into full action as more than 30 casualties are brought to their facilities for help. A mass casualty scenario has begun.
The medical side of military affairs provides units with services wherever they go, even annual training at Fort Pickett, Va. Army doctors and medics help with a range of training injuries, from bug bites to broken bones, but the medical personnel get their most intense training from an event called a mass casualty exercise.
“This exercise shows us how we operate under stress, it taxes us to the limits and actually makes us more comfortable if we ever had a real mass casualty situation,” said Sgt. 1st Class Scott Gibson, treatment platoon sergeant, B. Co. (Med) 429th Forward Support Battalion.
“It’s not just the docs, it’s not just the medics, it’s everybody. Even the admin people do their part to help out with something like this. It helps us work as a team,” Gibson said.
Spc. James Sykes, a medical support specialist who works as an anesthesia tech in his civilian career, mirrored Gibson’s opinion.
“This scenario is great because it helps us learn how things flow and how a team integrates and optimizes patient outcome,” said Sykes. “It helps us setup what’s useful to keep in reach at bedsides and teaches us where to distribute work and people.”
The forward support battalion’s medical company employs a range of assets, from the surgical tents and ambulances to help from other units, such as stretcher bearers and aircraft.
“We usually have three UH-60 Black Hawks attached to us. But this year we can take advantage of a CH-47 Chinook and the training differences that has to offer,” said Capt. Denise Sediq, executive officer, B Co., 429th F.S.B. “This training really helps with the decision-making process to determine how to do the best for the most in a mass casualty situation.”
Many of the troops involved with helping the mock casualties had civilian jobs in the medical field as well.
“Civilian acquired skills really help because we only have so much time to train. If your civilian job is in the medical field then you’ll probably be more comfortable in the combat environment.” Sediq said.
Gibson, a Soldier on his 25th annual training rotation, agreed with Sediq.
“It’s a tremendous asset when a Soldier works in the medical field as a civilian,” Gibson said. “It’s hard to find better-trained people then them. They work as docs, nurses, lab techs, even ambulance drivers.”
Even as the soldiers use the exercise to prepare for combat, they are also prepared to deal with the reality of training in Virginia. The doctors and medics agree that thousands of troops, two weeks of serious training, and a few cuts or sprained ankles is par for the course.
“In combat we would provide initial care and stabilization of everything from bug bites to gun shot wounds and traumatic amputations,” said Capt. Roger Clevinger, field surgeon for the 429th. “This keeps us up with likely scenarios so we can focus on individual training. It hones our skills for initial trauma stabilization. This is the highlight of our medical company’s training.”
Sykes summed up his annual training up to this point as a medic.
“The heat’s been hard, but the morale has been high,” said Sykes. “I got to know my NCOs much better and how to pull ticks successfully”