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106th Medical Group hones med tech trauma management skills

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Monica Dalberg
  • 106th Rescue Wing

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, New York--Casualties were all around them. Twenty people lay dead or dying.

Walking wounded victims were steadily bleeding and arriving, all in need of immediate care. Radios crackled with messages about patients, their locations and transport, and area security.

The Airmen had known this was day was coming and their skills and fortitude would be tested - in this culmination of their weeklong training in mass casualty response at Gabreski Air National Guard Base on June 11, 2021.

The June 7 to 11 training and exercise for 22 Airmen of the 106th Rescue Wing’s Medical Group, focused less on traditional individual medical readiness, and more on wing support in a deployed environment after a mass casualty incident, according to Lt. Col. Stephen Rush, the 106th Medical Group commander.

Group leaders worked together to develop, analyze, and direct training that would include lecture, in-depth discussions and hands-on practice, Rush said.

The focus was on triage - assessing and prioritizing levels of required care and patient transport. The exercise scenarios encompassed the many moving pieces involved in a multiple-victim event, he explained.

Members practiced carrying stretchers, or litters, for casualty transport; radio communication with the medical treatment facility and the operations within and working with security forces for the safety patients and the Airmen providing care.

Identifying the deceased and establishing mortuary affairs were all exercise components. The goal was that they would deal with the same conditions and requirements that apply to a real battlefield, Rush explained.

“There (are) so many aspects to this,” Rush said. “We want to be able to deploy as the Med Group with the wing as needed, and be able to handle any problem that faces us, and have rehearsed it many times.”

Rush, formerly a flight surgeon with the 106th Rescue Wing’s 103rd Rescue Squadron, is co-authoring the military’s new approach to mass casualty management, as part of the Department of Defense Joint Trauma System organization, or JTS.

The JTS is a Department of Defense effort dedicated to the reduction of morbidity and mortality, and to improved survivability for all trauma patients in wartime and peacetime, he explained.

The JTS officials collect information on trauma treatment from military doctors around the world and then produces best practice guidance that helps save lives, according to the organization’s website.

The Airmen learned cutting-edge triage assessment techniques that were newer than those learned by even the most recent graduates of the Air Force medical technical school, according to Staff Sgt. Joseph Knoetgen, an aerospace medical.

The exercise introduced the skills that will be taught to military medical personnel as part of the Joint Trauma System.
For Airman 1st Class Gariel Quintuna Calle, an aerospace medical technician who just completed his seven-month technical school, exercise was his first time training with the wing.

The entire week was eye-opening, Calle said. “I learned a lot,” he said.

In technical school he was taught to color code casualties by the extent of their injuries, but in the training he learned to classify those as pararescuemen do throughout the Air Force.

Adapting to the method used by pararescuemen is intended to help facilitate a more cohesive relationship within the wing, especially when deployed, Calle explained.

Medical administrator Major Mark Wilborn, and chief nurse Captain Rosemarie Tracy, planned the exercise.

The team rehearsed and troubleshot situations to minimize challenges and maximize focus on the learning objectives, the explained.

Knoetgen sought feedback and guidance from Rush, Wilborn and Tracy, and credited their collaborative effort for the success of the training.

“They were confident in doing the job they had to do and that is the most important because this is our foundation,” Knoetgen said.

“Step number one is saving somebody off the battlefield…That’s what this was…Just basic assessment, saving them, getting them out of harm’s way and then knowing what to do next. And I think we did a good job at that,” he said.

“They all embraced it and they were confident in doing the job they had to do,” he added.

The training was also designed to help medical Airmen cope with the stress of operating in a combat environment Rush said.

As deployments became longer and more frequent, members were often unprepared for the emotional tolls of war, he explained.

According to Airman 1st Class Catalina Garcia Canas, an aerospace medical technician, the exercise and training emphasized making tough calls that could result in guilt later.

Assessments of the wounded by medics could be subjective and based on the conditions presented at that moment, when critical decision making is needed, he explained.

Deciding a critically wounded person could survive with medical care could take care away from someone less wounded and with more chance of survival, he added.

“I feel this takes us one step closer and we want our people prepared for the mission,” Canas said.

In his experience, the better people are trained, the more likely they are to come through combat exposure without emotional consequences and grow from it all, rather than be hurt by the realities, he added.

Rush and medical group Airmen said they plan to build upon the skills learned in training.

This includes regularly devising and conducting medical exercises that implement the new techniques being developed by the JTS, Rush said.