News: Vermont Army National Guard MEDCOM and Nebraska Army National Guard medics work together at JRTC
Story by Staff Sgt. Victoria Greenia
FORT POLK, La. - As part of a rotation the Vermont Army National Guard is conducting at Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., medics from Vermont Guard and Nebraska Guard work together providing medical care for 5,000 troops.
While the majority of the Vermont Army National Guard (VTARNG) unit trained in a mock-warzone lovingly referred as “the box” in a ‘Decisive Action Training Environment’ rotation for the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La. Other members of the VTARNG augmented during the exercise were standing by to support the in-the-box Soldiers.
Soldiers with the Vermont Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) manned the Joint Aid Station Rear (JASR) in conjunction with the Nebraska Army Guard, providing medical support to nearly 5,000 troops participating in the rotation. Training together for two weeks were Army and Air Guard, Reserves, and Active components from 21 states, reinforcing the total force concept for seamless in-theatre integration.
As daily temperatures soared into the 90s with night temperatures offering little respite, the medical group found itself adopting the mantra “Drink water, and then more water.” The majority of the non-combat injuries seen at the JASR are heat-related as people from the northern parts of the country acclimate.
In just a little more than two weeks the medical staff had administered to about 500 troops, estimated Lt. Col. Patricia Hammond, a Vermont Army Medical Command nurse case manager who arrived June 15 for her annual training at JRTC. Her job is to carefully follow a soldier from the moment he or she is admitted to any medical station and as long as the line of duty (LOD) exists.
The JASR is the third tier of the medical care echelon available during the exercise, and Hammond explained that Soldiers in the field are referred first to their unit battalion aid stations or Charlie Company medical for minor injuries. For more serious incidents Soldiers are sent to JASR, and emergency injuries are taken to Fort Polk’s Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital (BJACH) with follow-up care conducted back at JASR.
“The way to explain it is to think of the JRTC box as theatre operations, like Afghanistan or Iraq,” she said. “Think of the JASR and the BJACH as the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. And think of the VTANG MEDCOM as the MTS (Medical Tracking System) stateside.”
Regardless of the severity of the injury or where the Soldier is treated, Hammond said each case is diligently tracked.
“We use a spreadsheet that provides date, name, rank, social, the unit they’re with; we track everyone, even if they’re active duty or reserve, who comes through here,” she said, describing an in-depth tracking system she and a co-worker created while stationed in Afghanistan. “It has what their injury was and whether it was a disease, non-battle injury or a battle injury, the status, and where they are currently stationed. It can also be used to see any trending injuries such as heat casualties or insect bites that medical should be concerned about.”
For Hammond, tracking cases as they go through the medical process doesn’t stop at maintaining thorough records. She literally tracks Soldiers, visiting with them at their quarters, hospital, or even back at their detachments in Vermont. Having established a good working relationship with hospital staff here at Fort Polk, her case management includes making rounds to her Soldiers and recommendations for care.
She said when the Soldiers go home, she will still check in with them, even Soldiers who live in other states who may be attached to Vermont units. She acknowledged that not every case manager may be as thorough as she is about the health care process for the troops, but to her it is a priority.
“[I do this] because they’re our Soldiers and they’re what are important,” she emphasized. “They’re our bottom line. Soldiers are our biggest asset and we have to take care of them. As medical staff, that’s what we do.”
The JASR is providing good hands-on training for the medical staff. Although its members aren’t down in the mock villages conducting searches or avoiding mock-enemy fire as much as their infantrymen brethren, they are still getting the essential skill set JRTC promotes; learning to merge seamlessly with other units regardless of branch or duty status.
Working alongside of the Vermont medical group is the 313th Medical Company from Nebraska. The unit’s main mission is ground ambulance transport, so manning a clinic isn’t what the 313th normally does – however Sgt. Charles Wilkins, a combat medic acting as a team leader while at JRTC, was quick to point out the task is not outside its capabilities and said things are running smoothly thanks to the staff’s professionalism.
As with any operation, there are kinks and sharp edges that need to be smoothed out, he said, but the Vermont and Nebraska medical groups have been working through whatever challenges come their way. For example, supplies are always a concern, he said, but careful monitoring has proved successful and they haven’t run out of any essentials. Also, when field medical units are overrun with patients, the overflow is sent to JASR.
“Sometimes we’re a little overwhelmed. Before noon today we had almost 40 patients,” Wilkins said. “30 patients is a normal number for the entire day. We processed them all in and out relatively smoothly and quickly, giving everyone the aid they needed.”
Wilkins said he has been working closely with the three Vermont doctors at JASR, noting that they respect the skills and knowledge of his team. The doctors welcome the medical technicians’ ideas, observations, and suggestions, which makes it much easier for the groups to integrate and provide top-notch healthcare.
“Some of our more experienced medics here will come up with a treatment plan and the doctors will look it over and sign it,” he said. “I’ve worked with doctors before who don’t allow us to do anything except follow their plans, but I feel like the doctors here allow us to anticipate their needs and their wants and allow us to carry it out.”
Hammond agreed that the unification of the two groups has gone well, and said that the Nebraska medics are excellent at what they do, working very well with her and the doctors.
“It’s been a close working relationship – which I expected – because the National Guard is one big happy family,” she said. “I’ve never experienced a situation with another National Guard unit that wasn’t very collaborative.”
This work, Vermont Army National Guard MEDCOM and Nebraska Army National Guard medics work together at JRTC, by SSgt Victoria Greenia, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.