Medics in 710th Brigade Support Battalion conducted a mass casualty exercise Aug. 27 during a battalionwide field training exercise to prepare Soldiers for the brigade’s upcoming rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.
“(This exercise is) to train Soldiers in their specific skills,” said Lt. Col. Jered Helwig, 710th Brigade Support Battalion commander. “I think they are doing great; everyone has really pulled together.”
Soldiers in 710th BSB set up a forward operating base and ran it as if on a deployment. Every Soldier received experience in their specific jobs, such as cooks, mechanics and infantry. Soldiers ran simulated missions, operated a dining facility, and secured an entry control point.
Soldiers from other units in the brigade also volunteered to participate in the training to make it more realistic. They played enemy insurgents and tried to breach the ECP, and they also played casualties for the medics to treat.
“It’s really good to get some hands-on training,” said Pvt. Tekaios Jones, an infantryman on personal security detail for Lt. Col. Lee Clark, commander of 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, who was a casualty for the exercise.
While the rest of the FOB was running smoothly, a simulated attack was launched on the dining facility, leaving several casualties. At the same time, the ECP was hit and two Soldiers were wounded there.
Soldiers immediately started performing initial first aid and moving casualties to the aid station.
“We are doing our final mass casualty exercise,” said 2nd Lt Kathryn Willison, evacuation platoon leader. “We will load them all on to a CH-47 helicopter. This is giving everyone lots of real-world experience.”
Medics had completed several smaller exercises earlier that week, and this event was the culmination of their training. Not only were there casualties for Soldiers in the treatment platoon to care for, medics in the evacuation platoon had to learn to load the casualties onto aircraft for speedy evacuation.
“We are doing medical evacuation training with UH-60 Blackhawks and (CH-47 Chinooks),” Willison said. “What we are doing is teaching them how to correctly load patients; most patients downrange come in through aircraft.”
Before the actual exercise, medical evacuation flight crews gave Soldiers of the evacuation platoon hands-on training. Soldiers learned how to properly approach helicopters to load and unload injured patients.
It is very dangerous for Soldiers to try to load a patient if they do not know how to follow instructions from the pilots and approach the helicopter. Since it is such a valuable skill to have while deployed, the training also was open to Soldiers who are not medics.
First, Soldiers learned how to hoist a casualty into the helicopter. This method of evacuation is used when the helicopter cannot land because of enemy activity or terrain. Medics had to learn the proper way to secure the casualty.
Using a dummy, they securely fastened him into the litter, ensuring he would not fall out or receive further injury while being lifted to the helicopter. Then, a cable was lowered to the medics. They had to secure the litter to the cable and hoist it to a flight medic waiting in the helicopter.
“(This gives Soldiers a) look at all the different aviation techniques that will be used in theater,” Helwig said.
Next, Soldiers learned how to load and unload a patient on a Blackhawk that is on the ground. Everyone had to work together to load the casualties. Soldiers had to exercise the utmost caution and coordination to carry the litter to the helicopter after they received the signal to approach.
“They have been motivated,” Willison said. “It is not often that you actually have instruction from a flight crew.”
Many Soldiers going through the training had never deployed before, so it was essential for them to learn these vital skills.
After the initial helicopter evacuation training, medics had a chance to eat lunch and prepare for the final exercise. Volunteer casualties got ready by “dressing up.” Their simulated injuries ranged from burns to amputations. To make it realistic, casualties were covered in artificial blood and burns.
When they were ready, simulated artillery rounds “hit” the FOB, wounding several Soldiers in the DFAC and two at the ECP.
Medics had to sweep the FOB and find the casualties. Initially, one medic found nearly a dozen casualties. He quickly assessed the situation and radioed to the aid station for help. In a few moments, medics were providing initial aid to casualties. Soldiers applied tourniquets to the amputees and gauze to the burns. Then, they carried their wounded comrades nearly a quarter mile to the aid station.
At the aid station, patients received further care and were prepared to be evacuated via helicopter to a hospital.
Physician’s assistants at the aid station gave medics constant instruction. While it was a learning experience, many of the medics performed their job in a quick and effective manner, proving they are ready to treat real casualties.
“As far as deployment goes, I know I can count on the medics,” Jones said.
After Soldiers treated their patients as well as they could with their resources, it was up to evacuation troops to get them to the helicopters.
Carefully, the casualties were loaded into trucks and taken to the landing zone. When the Chinook landed, Soldiers had to remember what they learned earlier and wait for the signal to approach. Once they received the OK, they worked together to quickly remove the casualties from the trucks without causing them further injury. Then they carried the litters in teams of four as quickly as possible to the Chinook and loaded them on.
From the exercise, Soldiers learned to deal with the stress and fast pace of treating and evacuating casualties in combat, and some of them even got their first helicopter ride.
According to Helwig, this exercise helped train Soldiers in preparation for JRTC. While they have been training on individual job skills, this exercise helped them put their skills together to function as a whole.