San Diego, CA - Several weeks of integrated training among the Medical Department aboard USS Boxer (LHD 4), Fleet Surgical Team 3 (FST), Shock Trauma Platoon (STP) , and Air Combat Element Medical from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) culminated in a six-hour long ‘final exam’ aboard the amphibious assault ship July 24.
The Fleet Surgical Team (FST) Pre-Deployment Trauma Training Course (PTTC) concluded with multiple hyper-realistic patient scenarios and real-time chaos in order to better prepare the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) for an upcoming deployment.
“Today is the composite of all the training that we have done through the PTTC, including the didactic lectures, intense combat scenario-based simulations, cadaveric laboratory and now, putting everything together in a hyper-realistic, intensive, multi-wave mass casualty scenario designed to stress the team, and find its upper limit. We try to make everything as realistic as we possibly can, as if we are taking real casualties,” said Cmdr. (Dr.) Tuan N. Hoang, Commander, Amphibious Task Force (CATF) Surgeon and FST- 3 officer-in-charge. Cmdr. Hoang who’s also the course’s director, explained that the course pushes a team-based approach to educate corpsmen to physicians and surgeons how to effectively triage, stabilize and treat single patient, multiple victims and mass casualties in combat environment. Multiple four-person teams consist of a doctor and three corpsmen, working alongside one another, responding to numerous combat trauma scenarios.
“Communication is always the most challenging part, when you have that many injured and you’re dealing with people on flight deck triage, patients out there, patients in here,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Nicholas Eadie. “[I give]Props to all of the recorders for keeping track of the patients, as no one was lost, and everybody got taken care of.”
Time is of the essence, and in an environment where seconds can literally mean life or death, the key to success is integrated team-based training.
“I think it’s critical that we are integrated,” Hoang said. “The ship’s Medical, FST, STP and ACE, all have different requirements, skill levels and skill sets,” he said. “If we are able to get the entire team exposed and trained to this kind of difficult, intense, fast-paced combat environment, it will be easier for the team to adapt in real word scenarios,” Hoang added.
The exercise is timed and graded; giving on-site feedback and helping the team increase their efficiency. Additionally, hyper-realistic simulators which can actually move, react, bleed, be cut open and have surgery performed on them, add realism and training depth that did not exist previously. With realism right down to stopping bleeding, shrapnel removed, injured organs resected in the hectic environment of triaging, treating multiple casualties, the team had their work cut out for them.
“Everyone has done a phenomenal job,” said Hoang. “From a team stand point, they communicated well, everyone in the team knew what their position and other’s were and they functioned as a well oiled machine.”
To hone a scalable, tailorable capability like this would allow ships like Boxer and the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to insert into any area and have trained teams from across the Navy Medical spectrum provide a mobile medical facility, which could handle a multitude of medical contingencies, from combat casualties, to humanitarian aid and disaster relief with greater speed, efficiency and proficiency.
“That is our mission…a capability where we can modularize and standardize our training capability, so if we have to surge another team to support a larger national tasking like a humanitarian aid mission, if there’s a request to augment with another surgical team… since they’ve already been through the course, it’s possible that they just fall in and be ready to go, there is no further training required,” said Hoang.
“Drills should be taken seriously, this is how we’re going to react” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Albert Delacruz, Advanced Lab Technician for FST 3. “It showed how when all the moving parts that make up medical department…when they work together, how we can take care of our Sailors and Marines when they’re hurt.”
According to Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/FMF/AW) Allan Antonio, Boxer Medical’s leading chief petty officer, the groups received high marks from the assessors.
“The exercise went extremely well,” Antonio said. “The energy, the momentum, the fluidity of combined medical assets set the bar in responding to a real world scenario, in saving lives and in employing Navy medicine.”
Boxer ARG is currently making preparations for an upcoming deployment, and her medical team has done their best to train like they fight.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the team functions in the real world environment. I hope that we don’t have to, but I think we as a team, are ready,” said Hoang.