By Sgt. Megan Burnham and Sgt. Tyler Lasure
112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin National Guard aviators and medics, along with civilian emergency management agencies, participated in a joint training natural disaster exercise spanning all of southeastern Wisconsin.
For the first time in five years, civilian agencies and National Guard aviation units worked together in a joint exercise, March 2, to react to a mass flooding scenario that tested the Guard’s medical evacuation capabilities.
The exercise, dubbed Operation Aerial Badger, combined an array of Wisconsin medical and aviation units to include elements of the 248th Aviation Support Battalion, 112th Aviation, 135th Aviation, 238th Aviation, 135th Medical Company, and cadets from the Civil Air Patrol. Civilian emergency management agencies included area hospitals and a Fond du Lac, Wis., based Flight for Life crew from Air Methods, Inc.
“Working with Air Methods and Civil Air Patrol also helps us with our state emergency mission for the Governor,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Knuppel, 112th Aviation commander. “We get to know their capabilities, they get to know our capabilities, and so hopefully together we can support the state emergency mission.”
One of the scenarios, conducted at the Flight for Life facility in Fond du Lac, involved Sgt. Philip Stalewski, a new flight medic with the 112th Aviation, assessing the numerous injuries on a mannequin victim and providing the necessary medical aid.
“This is great to do this kind of integrated training with the flight unit having only just recently joined the flight facility myself,” Stalewski said. “This is a great way to remember my basics, where I am coming from, and just not forget [the basics] as I move on and learn new and more exciting, high-speed things.”
This scenario also required Stalewski to call for aerial support to have the victim transported to a nearby hospital. A flight operation crew of the 112th Aviation received the call and dispatched a UH-72 Lakota helicopter, the newest medical evacuation aircraft supporting the Wisconsin National Guard.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barrera, 112th Aviation senior medic, served as the noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the exercise.
“I wanted to ensure that the ground medic on scene was going to be able to apply all of his skills needed,” he said. “[Stalewski] was able to perform outstanding. He did a great job, was able to stabilize and take care of what needed to happen.”
The training also provided an opportunity for the soldiers to interact with the Fond du Lac Flight for Life crew to learn how they operate and become familiar with each other’s equipment. If an actual domestic disaster occurred, the two entities would work together to keep Wisconsin citizens safe.
“I think the best part, and the most unexpected part, of this training that I’m taking is actually the civilian input from the Flight for Life folks here,” commented Stalewski. “They have a lot of great things to say, and [I’ve learned] a lot in the last few hours here.”
Meanwhile in Oconomowoc, soldiers of the 135th Medical Company conducted mass casualty evacuation training at Battle Creek Airfield. This training scenario allowed for soldiers to practice evacuating injured persons by air.
The training allowed soldiers to experience what evacuees feel as they are transferred by helicopter. In the scenario, soldiers acted as simulated casualties and experienced what it’s like to be a patient.
“[In the exercise] I was going into hypothermia, so we got treated and put onto the chopper and got to take an awesome ride,” said Spc. Tamara Eng, a medic with the 135th.
Getting the opportunity to conduct realistic training is important for all Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers, and in particular, soldiers charged with providing life-saving care to wounded soldiers.
While all the medics in the unit are well-versed in combat procedures, providing medical care in peacetime operations has its own special requirements. Soldiers normally learn procedures for air medical evacuation requests in a combat environment. During peacetime, or natural disasters, the requirements differ, requiring soldiers to adapt to the unique situation presented to them.
Many soldiers train with individuals in their own unit, but rarely with other units. For operations requiring good communications between two units – like medics and the aviation support they need to get the soldier to medical treatment facilities, joint exercises like the one conducted March 2 are vital.
“The soldiers need to have realistic training,” said 1st Lt. Angela Becker-Bradley. “This is something they wanted and needed, especially working with sister units. I hope they got a good hands-on feel for what should be happening and what their jobs are.”
Throughout the frigid morning soldiers trained on treating casualties, providing triage care, transporting casualties, requesting air evacuation, setting up a landing zone for air evacuation, and preparing and loading casualties for air evacuation.
“I have never had any opportunity to work with a helicopter before,” said Spc. Mike Glime, a medic with the 135th. “That is something that if you are deployed you will be doing and that is something that all medics should have the chance to do.”
The training reinforced the Guard’s readiness to respond to emergencies statewide in partnership with civilian authorities.