UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, Southwest Asia -- Maintaining a high level of readiness is an important aspect of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Central Command’s mission. Even though Christmas is two days away, the Marines and Sailors of SPMAGTF-CR-CC continue to focus on being prepared.
Right Force, Right Place, Right Time is the SPMAGTF-CR-CC’s slogan, which is why U.S. Navy corpsmen assigned to the task force conducted a mass casualty exercise Dec. 23, 2015.
SPMAGTF-CR-CC is currently deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, or AOR, and its crisis response mission spans 20 nations. Part of that mission is to provide medical support and life-saving care to coalition and partner nation forces operating within the AOR.
The mass casualty exercise took place at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia; where Canadian Forces and U.S. troops including Marines, Sailors and Airmen are currently stationed.
“This was an opportunity for us to exercise and rehearse our capabilities in the event that we have multiple casualties” and “to work together with our joint and coalition partners,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Stephen Burgher, a surgeon with the task force.
The scenario: A 7-ton vehicle roll over leaving nine Marines injured.
Marines role playing as the casualties were given specific injuries to simulate before starting the drill.
They received instructions on how to act, and what their injuries’ limitations would be in a real incident to make the scenario as realistic as possible.
“The event happened near the flight line,” said Burgher. “It allowed us to incorporate all the communications necessary to notify and activate our emergency response.”
Medical personnel responding to the event were only aware that an exercise may be taking place in the near future, but nothing else, which kept the element of surprise intact.
A U.S. Air Force fire and crash rescue team arrived first at the scene where Marines lying on the sand by the side of the road were screaming in pain, asking for help and pretending to be disoriented. The Marines took their role very seriously to provide the most realistic scenario possible. A piece of paper was hung around their necks displaying pictures and details on what kind of injury each Marine sustained.
Minutes later, a joint medical team composed of Canadian medical personnel, U.S. Navy corpsmen and U.S. Air Force medical technicians flooded the area in ambulances to assist the injured. Those casualties with less severe injuries were moved to a nearby concrete structure where they were sitting down and being examined.
Two Marines were still on the ground.
“What is going on here?” asked U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Laura Estacion, a medical technician with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, as she approached a casualty with an open fracture on his right leg. No more than 10 feet away, two corpsmen were attending a Marine with no visible injuries, but was unresponsive.
The Marine sustained a head injury.
Estacion, with the help of members of her team and Canadian counterparts, placed a tourniquet on the higher part of the Marine’s leg to slow bleeding from the open fracture, and then immobilized the whole leg with a splint. The Marine was next rolled onto the left side of his body and laid back down onto a stretcher.
Meanwhile, blocks of hardened foam were strapped to the sides of the unresponsive Marine and over his head reaching all the way down to his shoulders to prevent any further injuries while being transported.
All the casualties were then transported to a medical treatment area in the camp for further care.
“In our treatment area, we evaluate the patients, treat them, stabilize them, determine what needs to be done,” added Burgher. “[Are their injuries] something we can handle here? Or is this something we need to stabilize and transfer on to a higher level of care?”
Doctors decided that three Marines need to be transported via “DUST OFF,” or air-lifted, to a nearby camp where additional medical resources are available.
Corpsmen and medical technicians prepared the open fracture patient and the Marine with the head injury for their flight—an intricate procedure to ensure the patients are stable enough for air evacuation.
An additional Marine who sustained a threatening injury to his left eye joined them for the DUST OFF.
“The bird is in route, it should be here [in about 20 minutes],” shouted a medical technician across the tent.
Medical personnel completed final preparations to load the three patients into the ambulances. Meanwhile, the patients with less severe injuries were treated in a separate room.
Two ambulances, transporting the three Marines, made their way to the flight line.
A UH-60 “Black Hawk” helicopter with 2nd Battalion, 238th General Aviation Battalion, landed and U.S. Army Sgt. Bradly Owens, a flight paramedic with Company F, 2-238th GSAB, Medical Evacuation, jumped off to collect information about the patients from Navy and Air Force medical personnel, and load the casualties onto the aircraft.
Within seven minutes, all three patients were in the helicopter and on their way.
“[Exercises like this one] allow us to better support our Marines and Sailors, other joint and coalition partners here on base,” said Burgher. “And it also allows us to keep those skills honed in the event that we have combat casualties so we’re better able to triage, stabilize and treat our U.S. personnel, Marines, and other assets.”
When responding to a crisis, SPMAGTF-CR-CC may face situations where mass casualty triaging, treatment and evacuation is necessary, but by executing exercises like this one, Marines and Sailors are better prepared to effectively respond, added Burgher.