EL PASO, Texas – Fort Bliss Soldiers and agencies exercised the ability to deliver patients to level one trauma care for the first time in four years, September 4.
Soldiers assigned to 5th Armored Brigade, First Army Division West coordinated a mass casualty exercise that helped North Carolina National Guard medics prepare for an upcoming deployment. At the same time, the exercise tested communication between ground units, air medical evacuation operations, and the emergency department at University Medical Center to ensure critically injured patients receive the highest level care available.
Right now, 5th AR is training and validating 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina National Guard for their upcoming deployment to the middle-east. This mass casualty exercise began as a rehearsal to address one of the most dangerous situations that could arise during any unit’s training; a vehicle roll-over.
Master Sgt. Trey Albertson, medical operations noncommissioned officer in charge assigned to 5th AR said, “The incident was one of the big concerns of both the brigade commander and the Division West commanding general: a late-night movement of Soldiers with a vehicle roll-over.”
Observer/ Coach Trainers assigned to 5th AR recreated that exact scenario using both medical training aids and live role-players. The 30th ABCT responded by sending more than 70 medical personnel over the two-day exercise to evaluate, treat and prepare the casualties for evacuation.
“The level of preparedness they had was impressive,” said Albertson. “Even the most deployed active-duty units have hiccups, that’s going to be part of everything we do. But [30th ABCT’s medics] overcame every single obstacle flawlessly and just kept moving.”
Casualties are sent to different treatment facilities depending on their level of injury. A UH-60 Black Hawk assigned to 2nd General Aviation Support Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Infantry Division transported the most severe cases to level one trauma care at El Paso, Texas’ Memorial University Center.
“This allows us to rehearse the full circle of MEDEVAC coverage,” said Staff Sgt. Matt Oneill, a flight medic assigned to 2-4 GSAB. “We get to coordinate patient pick-up with medics on the ground, provide in-flight care, and practice patient transfer to the next level of care.”
Communication plays a crucial role in making sure everyone is prepared to play their part in providing care to injured people.
“Our main goal here is to improve the communication between us and [Fort Bliss],” said Ashby Payne, an emergency department nurse educator at UMC. “Historically we’ve had a real problem communicating with Fort Bliss MEDEVACs when you guys have critical patients.”
Payne said an exercise like this hasn’t happened since 2015 and there are a lot of nurses that have come and gone in those four years. She noted that new nurses come to UMC to gain experience in a level one trauma center and receive air MEDEVAC patients.
“The reason why the military is different than our other helicopters is that they do not turn their rotors off,” said Payne. “Helicopter safety seems to be a little bit more intimidating for our civilian employees, and frankly, it’s more exciting.”
Albertson said at the end of the two-day event, both Army medics and UMC staff felt more confident in their ability to treat and transport patients to the level of care they need.
“In this case, every moving piece between the civilians, aviation, range control and the OC/Ts on the ground just came together in one well-oiled machine,” said Albertson.