At sea - Medical personnel aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) were evaluated on their mass casualty response capabilities during a drill, Oct. 2.
Doctors and hospital corpsmen assigned to Makin Island's Medical Department, Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 5 and the medical staff of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) worked together during the assessment.
The drill was one of several events conducted as part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) certification exercise (CERTEX) currently taking place off the coast of Southern California.
"A mass casualty drill during CERTEX, for the medical department, is the last hurdle or last test that we must certify in before we're deployed," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/FMF) Omar Azmitia, leading chief petty officer for Makin Island's Medical Department. "That is what the chain-of-command is looking for, to see the integration, that the PHIBRON [Amphibious Squadron 5], the MEU, and the ship is coming together as one, to be able to accomplish the mission."
Azmitia said that during CERTEX evaluators come aboard to assess the crew's mission readiness prior to deployment.
"Mass casualty drills are important so that we know we can support any mission that is out there," said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Justin Andrew, leading petty officer for FST-5.
As well as being a training exercise, the drill is designed to evaluate the on board medical response capabilities and the integration of all the medical assets of the ARG.
"We have mass casualty drills because Makin Island's primary mission is to deploy Marines from a sea based facility - the ship - to shore, and perform amphibious landings," said Azmitia. "Obviously during wartime we're going to incur casualties, so Makin Island is outfitted with a fleet surgical team that is able to provide resuscitative care to casualties as they come into the ship."
Andrews said the combination of different elements working together during the drill is fundamental in the ARG's preparation for deployment.
"I don't think people really understand what is involved in a mass casualty drill, how much manpower and all the different moving parts," said Andrew. "It takes corpsmen on the shore treating and receiving casualties there and evacuating the casualties to your evacuation platforms. Once they're received on board, we have to triage them and then evaluate them by priority and bring them down into the operating room."
The mass casualty drill was the culmination exercise of several training scenarios throughout the past few months.
"We go through a training cycle. At the beginning of the training cycle, it's just Makin Island corpsmen that train and do scenarios throughout the ship," said Azmitia. "As we go through the training cycles we start involving the fleet surgical team, and slowly but surely, the [simulated] patients become more complex."
Azmitia said realistic simulated patients prepare the ARG's medical staff for real-life combat operations and the numerous situations they may encounter.
"For us, as a fleet surgical team and an ARG as a whole, we've really got to know our full capabilities in a medical sense," said Andrew. "You can't really know what your full capacities are until you do something like a mass casualty event and really test out everybody working together."
After several stages of training and integration the combined efforts of all the working parts led to a successful execution.
"I thought everybody did a great job," said Andrew. "Everybody worked together very well, all three elements: the MEU, the fleet surgical team and the Makin Island."
The Makin Island ARG is scheduled for a routine deployment later this year.
Commissioned in 2009, USS Makin Island is the Navy's newest amphibious assault ship capable of utilizing surface and air assets to move Marine forces ashore. The ship is named in honor of the daring World War II raid carried out by Marine Raider Companies A and B, Second Raider Battalion, on Japanese held Makin Island Aug. 17-18, 1942. LHD 8 is the second ship to bear the name "USS Makin Island."