Staff Sgt. Richard Andrade
The "Mass Casualty" alarm could be heard over loud speakers throughout Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Laghman Province, Afghanistan.
Health care specialists at the troop medical clinic rushed to prepare for an influx of patients during a mass casualty exercise here.
The realistic event gave soldiers assigned to Company C, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, a chance to test their skills and knowledge in the event of a real mass casualty incident.
Pfc. Anthony Stevens, a native of Fort Bragg, N.C., was one of the first responders to the event.
He is assigned to Company B, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th BCT, 1st Cavalry Division.
Stevens said the second he and other members of his "sweep team" heard the alarm, they donned their helmets, interceptor body armor and took accountability of their team members.
After gearing up, they walked in their designated area on the forward operating base, or FOB, looking for potential casualties or injured individuals.
The exercise simulated a rocket attack on FOB Gamberi.
Victims of the attack, role-played by soldiers, made sounds as if really wounded, as they were quickly taken to the troop medical clinic, known as a TMC.
Every "casualty" carried a card on them stating what type of injury they sustained.
The medics prioritized the wounded, and depending on the injuries had to choose to provide first-aid in or outside the TMC.
During the exercise, Stevens said he and his team found simulated casualties, placed them on a litter and quickly carried them to the TMC. Some of the wounded were brought to the TMC in the back of pick-up trucks.
"We got the casualties to the aid station, where they got patched up and we carried them to the flight line to be medevaced [medically evacuated via helicopter] to the hospital," said Stevens.
Chaplain (Maj.) Steve Prost, brigade chaplain, 4th BCT, rushed to the TMC to lend a hand after hearing the alarm.
The native of Platte City, Mo., went to provide spiritual support and he helped three other soldiers carry a simulated injured person, via litter, to the helicopter flight line.
Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters landed at the Gamberi helicopter landing zone unaware of the mass casualty exercise.
Some UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters are used for aeromedical evacuation en-route to hospitals in Afghanistan. The two that landed at FOB Gamberi were there for a different reason.
When the pilots saw four soldiers carrying someone on a litter toward them, the crew chiefs assisted with loading the litter on to the helicopter.
Spc. Michelle Nelson, a health care specialist, explained to the crew chiefs they carried the litter to the flight line because they were taking part of an exercise. The crew chiefs then helped take the litter and soldier off the helicopter.
Both the soldiers carrying their simulated patient and the crew chiefs thought it was good training.
Nelson said even though the helicopters weren’t part of the exercise, she liked that the pilots played along and let them board the casualty.
Nelson is a native of Long Island, N.Y., and is assigned to Company C, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th BCT.
Her mission that morning was to provide follow up care for patients at the TMC. Nelson said the TMC conducts realistic training like a mass casualty scenario to sharpen their skills in case something like that does happen.
During all the commotion in and around the TMC, a role-player succumbed to his injuries and died.
The soldier was taken out of view of other victims and the chaplain was called.
Once the chaplain heard the news, he walked over to the casualty, took a knee, held the injured victim’s leg and administered his last rites.
Prost is an Iraq War veteran and has years of experience working in a medical center and as a hospital chaplain.
"I am often at the shoulder of a patient. If they are conscious sometimes I can be a calming influence," said Prost.
The mass casualty exercise had make-believe patients but the training for the health care specialists was definitely real.
The injuries tested the combat medic’s skills as they applied life saving measures, at the same time being evaluated by their supervisors.
One casualty was dehydrated, so the combat medics had to put gloves on and administer an intravenous injection. They used emergency response equipment to stabilize the victim.
Once the "all-clear" signal was called over the speaker system, the actors began to take bandages off.
Following the mass casualty exercise, 1st Sgt. Dedraf Blash, a native of Conyers, Ga., called everyone into the TMC for an informal huddle.
"We appreciate your participation," said Blash, assigned to Company C.
The after-action review gave the actors, medics and first responders a chance to provide their observations following the exercise.
"It was good training over all," said Prost. "I appreciate your professionalism."
The chaplain then thanked the combat medics for allowing him to participate in the exercise.
The casualty drill had a successful outcome due to the first responders’ performance and the seamless efforts by on-scene emergency teams.
While they hope they will not have to witness a real mass casualty event while deployed, the soldiers know they will be prepared.