News: Medical soldiers hone skills for chemical environment
Story by Sgt. Sarah Enos
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash.--Like a scene from a disaster movie, casualties were spread out as far as the eye could see, waiting for Soldiers to triage, decontaminate and treat their injuries after a simulated chemical plant explosion.
Although a catastrophe such as this is rare in the United States, Soldiers assigned to the 520th Area Support Medical Company were evaluated on its ability to respond to a national emergency June 27, before assuming the Defense Chemical, Radiological, Biological, Nuclear, and Explosive Response Force mission.
“Based on history, it is not likely that a chemical plant would explode, but it doesn’t mean that we should be any less prepared,” said Capt. Katherine Little, 520th ASMC commander. “It’s important that we are ready to respond.”
In a joint effort with all branches of the military and other government and nongovernmental agencies, the DCRF stands ready to react to CBRNE incidents and attacks on American soil.
For a week leading up to the validation, the 520th ASMC teamed up with a local Reserve chemical unit, the 349th Chemical Company, and U.S. Army Northern Command to rehearse and test their ability to execute medical treatment for victims of the simulated explosion during the decontamination process following a CBRNE event.
“I think it’s realistic that we would be paired with a chemical unit,” said Little, a native of Sewickley, Pa. “Army North did an excellent job in picking what I believe we would see during an actual catastrophe.”
Soldiers were dressed in protective suits and assigned to either the ambulatory or non-ambulatory line. Role players simulated exposure to hazardous materials and were triaged by medical personnel and then led to the decontamination line.
The chemical personnel then meticulously removed hazardous materials from each casualty as a medical professional ensured each patient was stabilized during the process.
Once determined “clean,” the victim was directed to medical personnel for a thorough examination and treatment of their injuries.
“We have been practicing all week for this evaluation today,” said Spc. Troy Davis, combat medic, 520th ASMC. “I expected chaos. The victims showed us what we would have to do in a situation like this and how to react to it.”
The next and final test before assuming the DCRF mission is successful completion of the annual national-level exercise, Vibrant Response, in August.
Located at Camp Atterbury, Ind., Vibrant Response is the largest confirmation exercise for DOD's specialized response forces, with more than 9,000 active, Guard and Reserve service members in participation.
“Once we go through Vibrant Response, we will be set up exactly where we need to be to assume this mission,” said Davis, a native of Harlingen, Texas. “If something like this were to happen, I know we will have the right mindset to do the mission correctly. We will already know what to expect when we go in, and all we will have to do is execute.”
Each Soldier in the 520th ASMC will fulfill a vital medical role in the DCRF should a CBRNE disaster occur.
“It would be a pretty phenomenal feeling to directly help our fellow Americans in a time they would need us most,” Davis said.