Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Passing on their knowledge: Medics train at sim center

Sgt. Chris McCann

He’s already sweaty and exhausted from carrying casualties through water and over walls. But when he gets into the smoky, noisy room he nearly trips over two more Soldiers – badly wounded. Then the shooting starts.
It’s just training, but it has the ring of authenticity, which is exactly what the staff here wants.
The Bridgewater-Vaccaro Medical Simulation Center, just off Nash Boulevard, offers some of the most realistic training available in the northeast. Medics from all over the region and from every branch of service train here, said Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Belleville, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the center.
“We’re a regional medical center, so we get all types of people in for training,” he said. “All medics come here to revalidate their military occupational specialty, and people come for emergency medical technician, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and basic life saver courses.”
Capt. Bradley Frey, officer in charge of the center, said that they place a primary focus on hands-on training, and the Soldiers aren’t just going through the motions.
“All of it is tactical combat training,” he said. There is some classroom teaching, and then students go into the “validation room” – complete with smoke, dirt on the floor, and mannequins that react to treatment.
Between 60 and 70 students come through during a busy week, certifying as Combat Life Savers or completing the Mountain Medic course, and some units conduct battalion-level CLS courses using the facility’s equipment.
“When a person goes into the validation room, it’s dark, smoky, loud and hot,” said Frey. “They find two casualties with amputations in there. There’s an initial shock, because they don’t know what to expect, and they make mistakes – which is good. They make them here in a realistic environment, so they don’t make them downrange.”
“By the time they come in, they’re exhausted by the physical activity of the obstacle course,” said Belleville. “Then they have to do patient care. They’re physically and mentally ‘smoked’ at the end.”
Belleville and Frey are certainly not the only trainers at the facility; there are civilian and other military employees. And they’re not afraid to draw experience where they find it; the facility has requested two combat medics from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) to help teach the techniques learned during their most recent rotation in Iraq.
“They bring (their experience) to the fight – they’re teaching from experience,” Belleville said. The benefit goes both ways, he added.
“We’ll get six or eight months with the Soldiers from 2nd BCT, and when they go back to their unit they’ll be trained better. They’ll have passed on their knowledge to other troops – because war is constantly changing, the mechanics of injuries are changing. The tactics and improvised explosive devices are changing.”
The facility has received tremendous support from Co. C, 3-10th General Aviation Support Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, the leaders said, which allows troops to conduct medical evacuation training.
“They essentially built the unit out of nothing,” Frey explained. “They’re training now to deploy later on, and they’ve been very interested and very supportive. We’re trying to get them to work with us weekly; right now it’s about every two weeks.”
Training with real helicopters is very important, said Frey, because there are things that just can’t be duplicated without them.
“Aviation Soldiers give the instruction. It’s loud, it’s windy, the wash is bad,” he said. “We don’t want the first time a medic sees traumatic injury to be the first time they’re trying to load a casualty into the helicopter. This isn’t exactly the same, but it’s similar.”
The number of Soldiers who die of their wounds in the Global War on Terrorism is the lowest in history, Belleville said, because of training like that done at the center.
“It’s because of Soldiers being combat life savers, the aviation support – it’s a combined effort. Guys are coming back, and they’re living. I never went through this as a private – I got my advanced individual training and that was it.”
Belleville and Frey both credit tremendous command support for what goes on at the center, and an overall shift in the military emphasizing the role of medics.
“Higher headquarters is very invested in this and very supportive of what we’re doing,” Belleville said, noting that the simulation center is slated for expansion.
“Headquarters has told us we can have another building for highly-advanced medical training. That will raise it to a whole new standard,” he said.
They hope to use tactical simulated ammunition in scenarios to emphasize the importance of combat safety and teach troops to fire back as well as caring for the casualties.
“When the opposition force fires back, it can be a painful reminder to work on tactics,” Frey said. “We use a lot of tactical movements here, all the time. If you’re not doing it like combat, it’s not worth doing.”
Students at the center also get involved with ‘shadow’ programs, riding in ambulances and spending time at the State Univerity of New York–Syracuse’s emergency room.
“They can only watch, they may not do anything,” Frey specified. “But they get to see it in real life. And since it’s a teaching hospital, they’re seeing the best of the best, the right way to do it. They’re getting exposure to trauma before getting into it like they will overseas.”
The center is named for Horace Bridgewater, a medic with the 10th Mountain Division who was killed in WWII, and Angelo Vaccaro, a medic with the division who was killed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Both were Silver Star recipients.

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