JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The 8th Forward Surgical Team (Airborne) based here is heading to Miami.
That might sound like a vacation to most of us, but unless your idea of the perfect getaway involves working 48 straight hours in a busy real-world trauma unit, it’s clearly not.
The 8th FST (Airborne), one of the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion’s units, is preparing to deploy in the next few months. In preparation for that, the unit is training under intense and challenging conditions.
One of these challenges is training at the Army Trauma Training Center in Miami, Fla., in mid October.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Gritta, the company first sergeant, eagerly discussed the opportunities for training there.
“The Miami trip is for us to actually practice or actually serve as a team for trauma patients,” Gritta said. “We’ll go down to Jackson Memorial Hospital, Ryder Trauma Center, down in Miami. It’s a university hospital and they not only have their own medical school, but they allow Army units, typically FSTs, and some special operations teams to go in and actually manage trauma patients.”
“We will have patients that we will operate on as well,” Gritta said. “Because of the percentage of traumas that they get and the type of injuries they get, that’s a great training ground - if you think about it - on home soil. It allows us to perfect our skills and our techniques there on real casualties or real patients that need help, so it’s a great teaching platform as well as great platform to hone our skills.”
“It gets us up to speed on some of the newest or latest trauma techniques or [operating room] techniques, “ he said. “It allows us to actually work as a team prior to going into a combat environment on real casualties or real patients.”
“First four days we will actually get an orientation of the hospital and review of all the codes of everything we will need to know for the hospital system for the campus and then we’ll go into a little bit of trauma process review and any new updates on trauma process and then we’ll go into a mass casualty exercise that will get thrown at us and from there we’ll actually work on patients from inside the [Trauma Resuscitation Unit] and we’ll work within the hospital campus at the trauma center for the rest of the two weeks we’ll be down there. “
“We’ll have what’s called a capstone event and we will see patients non-stop for 48 hours, so we’ll be pretty much be working morning, noon and night for those two days, seeing trauma patients.“
“There’s no break time or nothing. It’s 48 hours of non-stop seeing patients, and then we get on a bird and come home.”
Maj. Mike Fisher, the unit’s deputy commander and chief nurse, has been to the trauma center twice and has an idea what to expect.
“For the last several weeks at ‘our’ home station, here in Alaska, we have been doing trauma training,” Fisher, a San Antonio native said. “There’s a set of guidelines by the American College of Surgeons that they call ATLS or the ‘Advance Trauma Life Support,’ So we’re training our medics to those standards and in that, we are doing trauma scenarios with various patients and we are stressing the soldiers so they have to think through the process of not only assessing, but providing life-saving interventions immediately.”
“Typically, teams go to Miami within a month or two prior to deploying, so then you have a little bit of room on the back end to hit the areas where you needed an improvement,” Fisher said. “We’re no different; we’re in the same boat.”
Fisher has high praise for the soldiers in his unit.
“My expectation based on the training that we’ve done is that and the fact I’ve been twice before is we’re going to knock their socks off!” Fisher said. “8th FST is blessed because we have some highly motivated soldiers. We have some of the best trained medics I have ever worked with. Once we receive their guidance, we’ll return back to home station, we’ll do some additional training prior to leaving for theater and then we have a good rotation, we have a good deployment.”
Fisher also thanks the 673rd Medical Group for the joint training.
“673rd Medical Group on JBER has been instrumental in honing our clinical skills,” Fisher said. “We have three nurses, an anesthesia provider, and orthopedic surgeon that function as regular staff in their emergency department, intensive care unit, post anesthesia care unit, and operating room. Our medics and licensed practical nurses have been working with both FST and 673rd hospital staff, building their patient care skills in a controlled environment prior entering the combat theater. Without the gracious assistance and open arms of the 673rd it would have been near impossible to achieve our training goals in the time we had. The 8th FST (ABN) and all our future patients owe them a lot.”
Some of the younger soldiers in the unit see the valuable training opportunity.
The leaders in the units have thrown a variety of medical scenarios at them, according to Spc. Theodore R. Batdorf, an intensive care unit licensed vocational nurse, with the unit.
“We’ve been running through a lot of primary assessments,” Batdorf said. “We’ve been thrown scenarios and given feedback, what vital signs we’re seeing, what interventions we’ll need to do and everyone has their own role. We’ve been practicing that. You know left medic, right medic, the team leader and everyone’s been switching around so everyone knows what everyone does so it’s more of a fluid thing.”
“It’s going to be more team building,” he said. “We’ve been doing things as a dry run. We haven’t actually been doing the interventions like sticking in chest tubes and all of those things we’ll be able to do [at the Army Trauma Training Center], so instead of wording it here ‘I would do this and going though the motions’ we’ll actually be doing it.”