News: Medics receive real-world training in Saudi Arabia
Story by Capt. Jamie Delk
By Capt. Jamie Mulder
108th Public Affairs Detachment
SAUDI ARABIA – During combat, having someone near you who everyone calls “doc” is a relief. You trust these medics. You know they are trained and will do their best to help you if you are injured. Exercise Friendship Two isn’t combat, but it is a live, joint training exercise that requires the medics to participate and react as if they were in a real-life battle situation.
The Friendship Exercises are an effort of cooperation between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Friendship One was held in 2009, focusing on armored tactics relatable to Desert Storm. However, Friendship Two shifted focus to combat seen today. Sniper tactics, improvised explosive device training, cordon and search and close air support were a few of the training exercises conducted.
“The 1-118th Battalion aid station mission is to support all U.S. and coalition forces, lanes training and all FOB Sumter operations,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Greene, Medical Platoon Sgt., 1-118th Infantry Regiment Combined Arms Battalion.
The 1-118th, 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Carolina National Guard, worked closely with their Saudi Arabian counterparts to prepare for a mission of this size. The medics were no different.
“Our mission starts with friendship, meaning we’re going to help each other and integrate with each other,” said Sgt. Chadwick Davis, a 251st Area Support Medical Company medic, attached to the 1-118th for the exercise.
“During all IDTs [drill weekends] we focus on real-world training and we run ‘what are you going to do’ scenarios. We run these scenarios religiously to make sure our soldiers know anything can happen and anything can change. You always need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario,” said Greene. He added the medics have all the time in the world during training to react, but in these training exercises they have real-world pressure that they have to work through.
“We do this at drill, because we have to keep our certifications up. When we get here, we’re already trained up on a lot. So when these injuries come in, we already know how to treat them,” said Davis.
Although the medical team came prepared, there were still obstacles to their training.
“The biggest challenge is the language barrier,” said 1st Lt. Enrique McClymont, 1-118th Medical Platoon Leader.
According to Davis, the “communication and language barrier is tough, but there are certain words they understand, and if you point they get it.”
Davis took a teaching opportunity, forgoing the language hurdle. He was nearby when a group of Royal Saudi Land Forces soldiers were preparing to load a litter into their ambulance and Davis noticed they could be doing a few things differently.
“I just stopped them and since we don’t have an interpreter, I used my hands a whole lot so they could understand me,” Davis said. He showed them; one person on each corner of the litter while one gives the calls. He even taught them prepare to lift and everyone lifts.
“They’re trying to learn from us on how we do thing,s because we are more efficient. They were very receptive. They want us to step in and give our advice,” said Greene.
Female and male roles in society are another challenge to the training. Or so everyone thought before they got to Saudi Arabia.
“Originally they weren’t going to send any female medics, because of the culture and how the Saudis would perceive us,” said Spc. Danaya Hough, a female medic from the 251st ASMC. Hough added, “I was terrified. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to come. I didn’t know how it would be, and I didn’t know what to expect.”
However, as the days went on, both Saudi and American soldiers adapted to the new working situation.
“At first everyone was a little timid. We didn’t know what to expect, but as the days progressed, we got used to seeing each other and started to interact more,” said Hough.
“It went both ways. They didn’t know if we wanted to associate with them, and we didn’t know if they wanted to associate with us,” said Sgt. Sherry Sulton, a 251st medic. I expected them not to speak to me, because I was female.”
The Saudis ended up being fascinated with female soldiers doing what the guys were doing. Both U.S. and Saudi soldiers felt free to shake hands and initiate conversations when the training was complete.
“They treat me as if I’m one of them; they don’t look at me as if I’m a female,” said Sulton.
“Now we look forward to seeing them every day, and they look forward to seeing us,” said Hough.
Learning from each other
“The biggest benefit we have is working at a different level with different individuals, and different ways of treating. We’re learning from them and they’re learning from us,” said McClymont.
“How we do things is something they’re interested in. Our equipment is something they’re very interested in, right down to the Cat 2 tourniquet. Every soldier in the Guard knows what a Cat 2 tourniquet is,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Kirby, 1-118th Battalion Surgeon. Kirby had a Saudi Arabian doctor who was surprised at how easy that equipment was to use. He understood the concept of a tourniquet but had never seen one that well designed.
“They have the concept that if you apply a tourniquet, the guy’s going to lose his arm,” said Kirby.
The U.S. medical organization is continuously moving their assets closer to the front line to have a quicker response time for patients. The RSLF don’t have the concept of far-forward care like U.S. soldiers do. Kirby added that the Saudi doctors were amazed at what’s in the hands and capabilities of the U.S. combat medics.
Although the U.S. forces and RSLF may have different medical opinions in some situations, they worked together to learn from each other.
“We’re not telling them what’s right or wrong, we’re showing them how we operate, and they’re showing us how they operate,” said Greene.
The 1-118th medical team gave the RSLF medics an intravenous and airway class. One of the Saudis even got to try to insert an IV into a U.S. soldier, and found the vein on the first try.
“They were fascinated with it and picked it up right away,” said Sulton.
The Saudi soldiers also took the time to show the 1-118th medics one of their helicopters and how it worked.
“We’ve been teaching each other things back and forth,” Sulton added.
U.S. and RSLF learned from each other, both medically and culturally. During down time, the medics had the opportunity to sit down with the Saudi medical team to exchange information on medicines and relax and drink “chai.”
“The Saudi’s are teaching us their camaraderie and cultural aspects. And we’re getting a feel for what their capabilities are as an army and as a field hospital,” said Kirby.
The line medics are the second piece to the medical puzzle and the first in the line of response during combat. Three line medics are placed in each company and are the first responders to provide first aid and initial trauma care to service members injured in combat.
“My line medics were all previously deployed to Afghanistan, so they’re used to this type of environment and dealing with a different nationality,” Greene said.
McClymont said he was very pleased with the relationship his medics have with their line units. “They say, ‘Sir, I’m going to eat with my guys,’” said McClymont. “That’s the type of relationship we want them to have.”
He added that type of camaraderie builds trust and that’s important when they deploy together.
Training in a live action field is more difficult than training at home station.
“This is a new experience for a lot of these soldiers who haven’t been anywhere to see an actual field environment at work,” said Greene. “We experience more real-world emergencies in this type of environment.”
In Saudi, the medics worked in a realistic, live, battle scenario with 24-hour operations. This pace was the same as in actual combat, McClymont added.
As far as the working conditions on FOB Sumter, Kirby said, “This is unheard of, these trailers are fantastic! The Saudis have a lot of support, a lot of equipment and they’re well supplied. And at their level they’re well trained in terms of medicine.”
Great training, experiencing the culture, and erasing stigmas about Middle Eastern cultures were among the biggest benefits of the training.
“I’ve learned a lot on the medical side as far as things I don’t usually do in the states. Here, I used and shared my skills,” said Sulton. “I had a great experience, and will take it back home.”