CAMP ATERBURY, Ind. --
Air Forces Northern Surgeon General’s office members wrapped up their evaluation of an Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS) confirmation field exercise, April 20.
Capt. Lee Laughridge, chief, AFNORTH Medical Operations and Training, and Jeff Brandenburg, chief, AFNORTH medical plans and logistics, worked throughout the year with agencies across the Air Force Medical Service enterprise to plan a scenario that exercised actual execution of the tactics, techniques and procedures of EMEDS during a domestic contingency.
“We wanted to look at the interoperability of the system as it fits within the framework of AFNORTH’s Defense Chemical Response Force mission responsibilities,” Brandenburg said. “We want to look at all aspects of the operation to include build up, patient care, logistics, supply channels and communication.”
The exercise began April 16, when 100 members of the 81st Medical Group, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, arrived at Camp Atterbury to find an open space and 28 pallets of medical supplies. From there, they were responsible for building and sustaining an EMEDS facility to support the exercise scenario. In this scenario, theirs was the only viable medical option available after an exercise-injected tornado ripped a path of death, injury and destruction around their training area.
“It’s great to see our Airmen so energized and enthusiastic,” said Col. Louis Gallo, 81st Medical Operations Squadron commander. “Out of an organization of more than 1,600 people, we picked 100 for this exercise. A lot of them didn’t know each other before this, but they came together and worked seamlessly to make this facility build-up and operation a success. We’ve also had outstanding support throughout from the Army community here and that’s critical to our success. We just show up with our supplies so we need rely heavily on base support.”
Laughridge agreed on Gallo’s latter point.
“Probably the biggest challenge has been getting our forces out here and plugged into the joint mission grid,” he said. “As an Air Force medical unit, EMEDS requires base operating support to do their medical mission. Seeing the team here interact with our joint mission partners has been a real joy. We know we can communicate well within our service, but seeing our personnel successfully work through issues with their Army counterparts is a huge win.”
But even before the first tent could be completed, simulated patients needing immediate attention began showing up on site. Medics who quickly responded worked around other medical group personnel continuing to build the facility. Patients were quickly evaluated and moved to an area where they could be made as comfortable as possible.
Once completed, the 12-tent facility included an emergency room; operating-room; dental service; medical control center; ward and quarantine area.
“This team from the 81st Medical Group has earned some serious bragging rights,” Brandenburg said.
Laughridge was also impressed with how the Keesler medical team handled their daily patient-related responsibilities while trying to establish a fully-operable medical facility.
“They’re looking great for meeting all our requirements so far,” he said. “It’s really impressive how they stop and switch gears almost instantly to respond to the exercise injects we’re presenting to them.”
Staff Sgt. Dominique Mason, neuro-diagnostic technician, is a deployment veteran who’s supported U.S. Army units outside the wire overseas but found this bare-base environment a challenge.
“Even when we stayed outside the wire, the tents were already built,” Mason said. “This has been a valuable learning experience, doing all these things I’ve never done before – building a tent, finding power for it and just getting things running. And now, I know very well – having done several now – how to put up a tent.”
Brandenburg said one of the biggest challenges in this environment was the initial build, which entailed not only erecting the tents but then determining what supplies should be in each and finding those supplies within the 28 pallets of supplies on the ground around them.
“Because a lot of the deployed locations we go to now are already built up, actual build of a functioning facility is not such a common skill set anymore,” Brandenburg said. “But this Keesler contingent is performing miracles.”
Exercise “patients” showed up on site with objects protruding from eyes, arms and legs; gaping wounds and missing legs; there was even an exercise inject where the simulated victim was a military working dog. Since all the other medical staff were tied up with the onslaught of other “people patients,” the dental staff responded to save both the day and the dog.
Dental services, as Lt. Col. (Dr.) John Brewster pointed out, are a critical part of the EMEDS capability.
“It’s kind of hard to concentrate on your mission if you need a root canal.”
For Maj. Christopher Smelly, emergency room physician, the realistically-moulaged mannequins made this medical experience more real world and feels it’s a beneficial effect for some of the more inexperienced medical group members.
“This is a labor-intensive effort, not only the planning and execution, but coping with the unexpected issues like power failures,” Smelly said. “It also provides great experience working as a team, recognizing each other’s strengths and weaknesses and getting people experience in a trauma setting.”
Maj. Stacy Carr, nurse anesthetist, a veteran of three deployments overseas, said the biggest challenge for her was the initial austerity of the environment – everything was still packed on pallets.
“I’m relatively comfortable in a deployed environment because usually, all the structures are already in place,” Carr said. “But this experience – up from scratch -- has been valuable because everyone gets to see what needs to be done and how long it takes. I have a lot more respect for what it takes to establish operations in an austere environment.”