War on Terrorism

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wisconsin Guard medics train as they fight, and save

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard

The group of six combat medics entered the village shortly after a reconnaissance team, looking for suitable locations to establish a clinic for humanitarian operations. Their security briefing warned that, even though the village was reported to be secure, roadside bombs and snipers remained a threat.

A villager rode up to the medics on a bicycle. "Hey, Americans," he called out. "Come meet my brother!" The villager rode off, replaced by debris and gunfire.

"That's my brother!" the villager exclaimed, taunting the medics who now know they must enter a hostile urban corridor and rescue gravely wounded service members as a sniper tries to pick them off one by one.

And that was only one of the training lanes for approximately 200 Wisconsin National Guard medical professionals May 19-20 at Fort McCoy, Wis. Other tasks included administering vaccines, performing medical care in a battalion aid station, extract a casualty from a guard tower and collapsed structure, load casualties onto ground and air ambulances, and perform life-saving measures in a field environment.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Clint Vervoren, a combat medic instructor at the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 426th Regional Training Institute, the two-day event was designed to expose medics to situations they normally wouldn't deal with on a drill weekend or during annual training.

"We as a group in the AMEDD (Army Medical Department) conference committee felt that these were tasks ... could be taught to the junior medics throughout the state and give them a good hands-on experience," he said. "Different units deal with different situations, whether it be a battalion aid station or an ambulance company. [Here] they got a taste of every piece the Army has to offer."

Sgt. 1st Class Cara Butterfield, also a combat medic instructor at the 426th RTI, said the medics at the training event ranged from having more than 20 years experience to having just graduated combat medic school three months ago.

"Our medics are very well trained and they're good at what they do," Butterfield said. "We try to instill in them the 'Soldier First' concept."

That concept underscores the "combat" in combat medics. In the rescue scenario, medics had to eliminate the sniper in order to safely extract the wounded Soldiers from the battlefield. Even though it was a training scenario, Spc. Hollie Helgerson of the Waukesha-based 135th Medical Company acknowledged that it was no mere classroom exercise.

"Any time you're in a stressful situation like that I think it's hard to keep level-headed and go back to the basics," she said. "But that's what you have to do. I have not deployed before, so this is the closest thing to real life I've experienced."

Sgt. Matthew Hammer, also of the 135th Medical Company, has deployed four times since 2003 to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though his prior deployments were as an infantryman and not a medic, his overseas experience allowed him to keep any stress under control.

"It's near impossible to replicate the real thing, but this is a good job," Hammer said. "I can see how it could get stressful. As long as you know your skills, if you can just slow yourself down and breathe, and just walk yourself through what you need to do, it [won't be] that bad."

Butterfield said she saw many examples of teamwork during the training event. Vervoren said that the new training scenarios this year provided different challenges for the medics.

"I think they enjoyed it," he said. "They seemed to get information out of it."

Helgerson agreed.

"Just being here and being able to go through scenarios, any time we get to do that is really good for us," she said. "The training is really the best part of this, actually getting to do what we are trained to do."

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