WESTHAMPTON BEACH, NY – Mock victims were all around them. Twenty people were dead or dying during the mass exercise.
Injured ambulant “victims” were also arriving, all requiring immediate treatment. The radios crackled with messages about the patients, their whereabouts, their transportation and the safety of the area.
The Airmen knew that day was coming and would test their skills and courage in this culmination of their five-day training in response to the massive casualties at Gabreski Air National Guard base on June 11.
The training and exercise for 22 Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing Medical Group focused less on traditional individual medical readiness and more on wing support in a deployed environment after a mass casualty incident, according to Lt. Col. Stephen Rush, commander of the 106th Medical Group.
The focus was on triage – assessing and prioritizing required care and patient transport levels. The scenarios encompassed the many moving parts involved in a multiple casualty event, Rush said.
Members practiced carrying stretchers, or litter boxes, to transport patients; radio communication with the medical treatment facility and collaboration with security forces for the safety of patients and airmen providing care.
Identifying the dead and establishing mortuary affairs were part of the exercise as part of the effort to replicate the conditions of a real battlefield.
“There (are) so many aspects to it,” Rush said. “We want to be able to deploy as a Med group with the wing as needed, and to be able to handle any issues that we are facing, and we have said that many times. “
Rush, a former flight surgeon with the 103rd Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue Wing, is co-author of the Army’s New Approach to Mass Loss Management, as part of the Joint Department of Defense Trauma System, or JTS.
JTS officials collect information on trauma treatment from military medics around the world and then produce advice on best practices that help save lives, according to the organization’s website.
Airmen learned advanced yard assessment techniques that were newer than those learned even by the most recent graduates of the Air Force Medical Technical School, according to Master Sgt. Joseph Knoetgen, aerospace medical technician.
For Airman 1st Class Gariel Quintuna Calle, an aerospace medical technician who has just completed his seven months of technical school, the exercise was his first training with the wing and eye opening.
“I learned a lot,” he says.
The exercise was planned by Major Mark Wilborn, Medical Administrator, and Captain Rosemarie Tracy, Chief Nurse.
The team rehearsed and resolved the situations to minimize challenges and maximize focus on learning goals.
Knoetgen sought comments and advice from Rush, Wilborn and Tracy, and attributed their collaboration to the success of the training.
“They were confident they would do the job they needed to do, and that is most important because it is our foundation,” Knoetgen said.
“Step 1 is to save someone from the battlefield. This is what it was. Just a basic assessment, save them, get them out of harm’s way, then figure out what to do next. And I think we’ve done a good job at that, ”he said.
The training was also designed to help medical aviators cope with the stress of operating in a combat environment, Rush said.
As deployments have grown longer and more frequent, members are often unprepared for the emotional toll of war, he explained.
Aviator First Class Catalina Garcia Canas, an aerospace medical technician, said the better trained people are, the more likely they are to experience combat exposure without emotional consequences.