Tuesday, December 29, 2009

MDDF Medical Staff Get Their Boots Muddy

By COL(MD) Robert Hastings
Maryland Defense Force Public Affairs
29 December 2009

EASTON – On a chilly Saturday morning in late November, 28 medical professionals from the Maryland Defense Force’s 10th Medical Regiment (10th MED) formed up on the flight line of the Easton Regional Airport to begin a one-day field training dubbed “Rambo One.”

The goal of the exercise, as explained by Col. (MD) Stan Minken, commander of 10th MED, was to familiarize the regiment’s medical personnel with operations in a field environment under both civil and military conditions.

“Members of this unit have the potential of being tasked in both civilian and military arenas and must understand the basics of delivering care and working with other agency personnel in multiple disaster situations outside the clinical environment,” said Minken. “My intent with this exercise was to develop an appreciation of teamwork in a disaster situation with the understanding that leadership must be exhibited and working under that leadership must be cooperative.”

The training began with a familiarization with a light aircraft. Personnel were shown how to approach aircraft, enter the cockpit and passenger areas, shut down the engine, and remove an injured occupant.

Next, a civilian ambulance crew demonstrated the capabilities, equipment and procedures used by first responders in dealing with mass casualties.

“Many medical professionals actually have very little experience in working with ambulance crews and first responders,” explained Minken. “Familiarization with the capabilities of ambulance crews and ambulance equipment is crucial to promote cooperative work conditions and mutual respect.”

After the unit moved to remote field site, it was joined by a team of combat medics from the Maryland Army National Guard (MDARNG) who established a Battalion Aid Station (BAS) and explained how emergency medicine is delivered in a military environment. Since the MDARNG has both a combat and civil mission, it is very likely that MDDF medical personnel could be tasked to operate in or with a BAS even in a civil emergency.

“This aspect of the exercise demonstrated how the National Guard works and provides care,” explained Minken. “Our mission is to support these units. It is imperative that we be familiar with their protocols and set-up to provide seamless and appropriate support.

Secondarily, it was important to expose the MDARNG to our personnel and capabilities to further foster a cooperative attitude.”

During this part of the training, Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Donald Connolly of the MDARNG’s 1-175th Infantry Battalion demonstrated the field load carried by soldiers in combat. After donning his Kevlar helmet, body armor, load-bearing equipment and rucksack totaling more than 100 lbs, he explained, “MDDF doctors conduct many of the pre- and post-deployment medical evaluations for our guardsmen. I want them to understand the physical demands of operating in combat so they can better understand the ailments and injuries that many of our soldiers are experiencing.”

Many of the medical professionals donned the gear themselves to experience it firsthand.

“The physical load our Soldiers carry is tremendous and the implications for health problems are wide ranging,” said Lt. Col. (MD) Walter Hettinger, an MDDF physician. “It is one thing to listen to one of the Soldiers describe his combat load, and it is entirely another to actually wear Kevlar and 100 pounds of stuff.”

During the BAS training, the MDDF personnel were also instructed on proper procedures for transporting injured personnel in the field using a litter.

The exercise continued with training in disaster site triage, primary casualty assessment, and the psychological aspects of a disaster for both victims and responders.

“My goals in planning this exercise were to place our medical personnel in a field environment with the need to understand improvisation and working in less than ideal situations, to enable our personnel to be ready to integrate into a multi-MDDF unit exercise in the future, and to develop a sense of team and mutual respect for the capabilities of other units.”

“I thought the FTX was tremendously valuable not only for the training, all of which was interesting and real world applicable, and but also for the camaraderie that it fostered,” added Hettinger. “We rarely get a chance to spend a day with more than a couple of our team mates in such an interesting and enjoyable manner.”

“My sense from observation and feedback is our goals were achieved,” concluded Minken. But more training is on the way. A second training exercise is being planned that will focus on specialized care for specific injuries. 10th MED now has five advanced trauma life support (ATLS) instructors who were trained under a MDDF-DoD grant.

“This was the long term intent of obtaining the grant,” said Minken. “With these trainers in place we can now provide more intensive and focused training. My goal is to make us a showcase for the Maryland Military Department.”

Col. Minken is openly proud of the capabilities of 10th MED. “Every member of the Maryland Military Department should know that the 10th MED is trained to do what we are tasked to do and that we are ready to support or augment all units with medical back-up.”