News: Expeditionary medicine for the Australian outback
Story by Sgt. Paul Robbins
BRADSHAW FIELD TRAINING AREA, Australia - Expeditionary operations sometimes require a military force to be hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital or emergency services. That’s why the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit brings their own.
The doctors and corpsmen of the 31st MEU’s logistics combat element and command element operate multiple aid stations to maintain the health of more than 250 Marines and Sailors working in the Task Force Maintenance Area for Exercise Koolendong 13.
“We provide basic medical support to the logistics combat element, the command element, the aviation combat element and everyone else here,” said Navy Lt. Chris A. Cruz, a 29-year-old medical doctor for Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU.
One doctor and five corpsmen provide services ranging from general sick call and first aid to treatments for heat casualties and minor surgical procedures. The small staff supports the command operations center, vehicle maintenance section, motor transportation pool, fuel depot and flight line with less than 1,000 pounds of supplies and equipment.
The medical professionals packed light for Koolendong after assessing the length of the exercise and proximity to live-fire training. A week of training far from the ranges led the staff to focus on the weather. With the ground combat element’s corpsman providing medical support for the live-fire training, heat casualties would be the primary concern.
“The Marines have spent weeks in a temperature-controlled ship, then trained in cool weather for Talisman Saber near Brisbane, and are now in Darwin where it is in the 90’s every day,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason M. Turgeon, a 37-year-old preventative medicine technician for CLB-31, 31st MEU and a native of Memphis, Tenn. “The body requires three weeks to acclimate to a new climate. When mission-dictated, they do it in a day.”
The medical section came prepared for a week of basic care, but their capabilities could stretch well beyond that. Up to 2,400 pounds of equipment and supplies can be transported along with the unit, keeping the aid stations capable of providing care for up to four weeks without re-supply.
Even if the month passes and the supplies dwindle, the well-trained doctors and corpsmen can continue to provide medical services.
“Based on medical knowledge, we can continue to provide quality care even as supplies start to run low,” said Cruz, a native of Arlington, Texas.
The support provided by the CLB-31 and command element medical staff is crucial to the 31st MEU’s ability to operate as a fully functional Marine Air-Ground Task Force. With their aid stations, combined with the ground combat element’s aid stations and the Forward Resuscitative Surgery Suite, the unit can handle most emergencies.
“The medical staff is more than personnel and equipment, it is a capability the 31st MEU can use in a contingency,” said Lt. Col. Omar J. Randall, the 38-year-old Commanding Officer of CLB-31, 31st MEU, and a native of Bronx, N.Y. “They allow us to enter an austere environment and operate independently.”
The 31st MEU moved a battalion-sized element more than 300 miles inland to conduct a week-long, live-fire exercise. Koolendong demonstrates the operational reach of the 31st MEU and reinforces why it is the force of choice for the Asia-Pacific region. Also participating in the exercise is the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin and soldiers of the 5th Royal Australian Army. The 31st MEU brings what it needs to sustain itself to accomplish the mission or to pave the way for follow-on forces.