News: Medics partner with chemical units for training
Story by Sgt. Mark Miranda
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Soldiers of the 56th Mobile Medical Battalion conducted field training exercises, Feb. 6-10, in preparation to take part in a Defense of Civilian Support Agencies mission.
The 56th MMB is a part of 62nd Medical Brigade, the unit that will assume the role of medical responders for the Department of Homeland Defense in October.
“We’ll support DSCA in times of catastrophic events to include a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack,” said Col. Theresa Schneider, commander of 62nd Med. Bde.
The medical component of the Defense CBRN Response Force mission includes 17 additional units across the U.S. from nine Army and U.S. Air Force installations.
“With such a large force, the challenges we face are training, equipment and readiness. It requires a lot of coordination, and taking part in exercises. Some of the 56th MMB is already taking part in the DSCA mission,” said Schneider.
The 62nd Med. Bde. comprises units whose missions include area support medical care, ambulance care, preventive medicine and combat stress control, among others.
“We have to be able to fly within 24 to 48 hours. That requires a less liberal pass and leave policy because not more than ten percent of the unit can be gone at once. Our mission in response to catastrophe would be to provide medical support for the first responders, and then supplement the ability of the local affected community to save lives. We reduce suffering, save lives in support of our civilian colleagues—I’ll get a lot of my guidance from them,” said Schneider.
The training placed the 56th MMB’s medics in the types of situations they may face over a year of the DSCA mission: handling mass casualties, and taking care of displaced civilians looking for food, water and medical care.
“In the situation we’re training through, [units of 56th MMB] are responding to a CBRN attack, and we have around 200 patients that need to be decontaminated before we treat them,” said Sgt. Steven Capen, a medic from Colorado Springs, Colo. assigned to the 575th Area Support Medical Co.
Soldiers from 23rd Chemical Bn. had a significant part in the exercise, providing manpower and equipment to decontaminate vehicles and casualties. For each run of the exercise, up to 40 personnel were medically evacuated from the site of the simulated attack.
“Just as soon as our ambulances get to the ‘hot zone,’ we start to triage the casualties, determine which ones we have to move immediately. Communication becomes very important and it’s challenging to have to manage the resources and manpower, to coordinate support,” said Spc. Jared Myers, a medic with 514th Ground Ambulance Medical Company.
Adding to the challenge, the medics wore hazardous response protective suits and masks while evacuating multiple casualties from an urban training site. The buildings of the village mock-up were multi-level with several rooms that medics had to check thoroughly to locate the “wounded” role-players.
“Once they’re decontaminated, we have established tents where the patients are triaged. Depending on severity of injuries they’ll get minimal or immediate care and others are evacuated to a better-equipped medical treatment facility. Through all of this, we’re getting a chance to see how well we work with other units, how well we coordinate,” said Capen.
Schneider said that the training the medics conduct here translates well to anything that the unit may have to face at home or overseas.
“It’s like a three-ring circus with preparation for DSCA now, and being ready for what mission will come later. If you can do your job under fire, stress, that’s what it’s about. If you can do that right, the rest falls into place,” said Schneider.