Photo Information

A Marine escorts an ambulatory HMMWV to a Shock Trauma Platoon during Exercise Steel Night’s mass casualty drill at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Dec. 12, 2015. The drill tested the 1st Marine Division’s ability to react to a large influx of injuries and wounds from battling the enemy. Steel Knight provides tough, realistic training for the Marines and sailors of 1st Marine Division.

Photo by Sgt. Justin Boling

Racing to save lives at Steel Knight

14 Dec 2015 | Sgt. Justin Boling Defense Media Activity

As the Marine Air-Ground Task Force moves toward its final objective, the ability to save lives is rehearsed during Exercise Steel Knight’s mass casualty drill, Dec. 12, 2015.

On the Front

Corpsmen attached to a unit can provide early triage and acute care to wounded and injured Marines in a combat zone. The Marines and corpsman of 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, conducted the initial care of wounded casualties during the drill.

“It is important to develop the skills while we are at Steel Knight,” said Petty Officer First Class Joshua Vanderlay, a corpsman with 1st Marine Division, Division Surgeon’s Office, and the evaluator for the mass casualty drill for the team. “Knowing these corpsmen we send down range have the skills they need to take care of their Marines is critical.”

In the initial stage of the drill, the corpsmen and Marines performed basic first aid upon discovery of the wounded. The role-players provided a hyper-realistic training aid as they were real amputees with blood pumps and cut suits to replicate severed limbs.

“The contractors expose these corpsmen and Marines to wounds and injuries they may have never seen,” said Vanderlay. “It is huge boost to their confidence knowing they can deal with the stress of these very realistic patients.”

After finding the wounded, the first responder corpsmen assess and prepare the injured to be transported to the next echelon of care.

“It is imperative that the Marines develop these skills alongside their corpsmen,” said Vanderlay. “A corpsman is one person taking care 38 Marines or so, it helps if those Marines understand how to take care of wounded Marines.”

The drill tested the 1st Marine Division’s ability to react to a large influx of injuries and wounds from battling the enemy. As a mode of immediate transport, MV-22B Ospreys moved the most critical casualties through the cold morning air to a Shock Trauma Platoon. 

Shock Trauma Platoon

Upon arrival, casualties were initially searched and body armor removed. A team of corpsmen began to stabilize and assess each casualty. The medical personnel proceeded by providing aide and stabilizing patients.

“Today we are working with the division to stabilize and save the lives of wounded and injured Marines,” said Commander Herman Gonzalez, the Shock Trauma Platoon’s officer in charge. “Steel Knight is an exercise where we simulate a fight with an equivalent force, which leads to large number of wounded and injured.” 

The skills of these men and women keep the division’s ground combat in the fight.

“Since the exercise began, it has been long hours of coverage for numerous ranges and other events,” said Petty Officer Third Class Carl Cayetano, a hospital corpsman with Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group. “I volunteered to come out to shock trauma to refresh some very important skills.”

Cayetano’s resiliency to remain focused on his responsibilities was test when fifteen minutes after his arrival on scene, one of the simulated casualties died. Shortly after, the platoon received a NATO 9- line message stating more casualties were on the way.

“The patients are coming in with gunshot wounds, shrapnel and burns, which can differ from what we experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan’s injuries from [improvised explosive devices],” said Gonzalez. “We stabilize and very carefully coordinate transportation to the next higher echelon of care. They are better equipped and handle the sustained care needed.”

Even in austere environments, the STP can provide care to approximately 50 casualties, making it a crucial asset during combat operations. 

“I wanted to participate in the mass casualty drill,” said Cayeteno. “It is a good refresher it has been quite a while since I saw all of the dynamics of saving lives. It reinforces the basics.”

For some Navy physicians, it was the first training on how to triage patients in a combat simulated environment, which leads to making difficult life or death decisions.

“Training during Steel Knight is a great way to get out of the hospital and be reminded of how to provide care during the fight,” said Gonzalez. “It is great they send us actual people, it keeps the training as realistic as possible. The instructors are very good at being able to simulate the numerous cases you may find while serving in the field.”

The skills rehearsed during this drill enabled Navy medical personnel and Marines to train realistically for potential future crises.