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Mass casualty on flight line

A triage team (first responders) rolls their “wounded victim” onto a gurney before taking him to the casualty collection point. (U.S. Air Force photo by Amy Abbott)

A triage team (first responders) rolls their “wounded victim” onto a gurney before taking him to the casualty collection point. (U.S. Air Force photo by Amy Abbott)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- Late into the night in a dark hangar at March Air Reserve Base, seven people layed in pools of blood, wounded and waiting for help. A C-17 loomed outside and sound machines broadcasted chaos and noise in the background. Fog machines were hidden behind camouflaged netting, laying an eerie blanket of gray over the surreal ambiance. 

Over 120 reservists from the 452nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron, along with contingents from the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the 729th Airlift Squadron, rushed back and forth. Some were carrying the wounded on gurneys, others were giving patients oxygen and checking wounds. All were busy and, in this scenario, all were practicing what one day may very well be a reality. 

"Military readiness is vital, because America's military readiness signals to the rest of the world that the United States is prepared to defend its interests," said Capt. William Pashley, 452nd AMDS administrator. "I believe the personnel at the 452nd AMDS have demonstrated their dedication and have signaled to the rest of the world they are prepared to answer the call to duty." 

The training for this nighttime exercise began months ago and picked up speed over the last couple of weeks. In addition to the location of the simulated attack, there was also a casualty assistance point set up where the wounded patients were taken. After all patients were triage and given immediate treatment, they were then loaded on a C-17 for a simulated medical evacuation. 

"Since January of 2007, the medical professionals assigned to the 452nd AMDS have been mentally and physically preparing for this mass casualty exercise, which is a yearly medical readiness requirement," said Capt. Robert Parks, 452nd AMDS Expeditionary Operations Officer. "They collectively used the lessons learned from previous training exercises to create a real-world training scenario, which included for the first time the use of a C-17 aircraft." 

According to Senior Master Sgt. Clayton Cortinas, the emergency medical technician training coordinator for the 452nd Medical Group, the exercise gave everyone the opportunity to hone essential skills. They became more proficient within their respective fields by practicing advanced trauma and emergency techniques. 

The patient training scenarios were designed by Sergeant Cortinas to challenge and teach. They included moulage, the art of applying mock injuries and wounds, to make everything as realistic as possible. There were a variety of injuries from head and abdominal wounds to protruding bones to a sudden heart attack at the scene. 

"These scenarios are the most common injuries encountered in a war zone," said Sergeant Cortinas. "The more they see it and do it, the better they will be." 

Another way to make the training more realistic was the decision to conduct it at night - in a combat situation the enemy does not call time when it gets dark.

"This mass casualty training exercise was specifically scheduled during the evening hours to provide an additional training element that not all catastrophic emergencies occur during daytime hours," said Capt. Parks. 

While participating in the exercise, the medical personnel also had to react to a chemical attack and continue working in their protective gear. 

"The members of the AMDS performed their medical tasks in Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) 4 both effectively and professionally," said Marv Tucker, 452nd Emergency Management Flight Chief. "This exercise, which included the practice of essential skills and an aircraft for the aeromedical evacuation of patients, was one of the best I have seen in years." 

As a final scenario, one of the wounded was the terrorist who carried a concealed weapon, which he pulled out and used on the triage team. 

"The exercise went extremely well, especially considering personnel and time constraints," said Sergeant Cortinas. "The more challenging it becomes, the more our medical team seems to like it." 

The training has become more challenging because the 452nd AMDS' mission has changed. Previously non-deployable, their unit type code requirements have recently been adjusted making them available for taskings and further support of the wartime efforts. 

According to the 452nd AMDS commander, Col. Janice McKibban, her troops are more than ready. She said she "has all the confidence in the world that her troops will do fine if they are deployed." And she, as well as the rest of the command, credit intense training like this for getting them there.