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Frontline medicine: 378th Expeditionary Medical Squadron GST in action

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Alexander Frank
  • 378th Air Expeditionary Wing

Last month, Airmen from the 378th Expeditionary Medical Squadron Ground Surgical Team had the opportunity to forward deploy to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Muwaffaq Salti Air Base, Jordan.

The 17-day temporary duty focused on providing medical care in austere environments and exposing the team to the logistics of traveling as a mobile medical team. The TDY took the GST to multiple locations across the CENTCOM area of responsibility to test its ability to provide critical care regardless of location and available resources.

The GST is a multi-capable team of surgeons, nurses, and physicians designed to forward deploy to rustic environments to provide life-saving care. The six-person team from the 378th EMDS at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, include surgeon Maj. Parker Filmore, nurse anesthetist Lt. Col. Darin Lee, critical care nurse 1st Lt. Aaron Freeman, medical service corpsman Capt. Alexis Sutherlin, surgical technician Staff Sgt. Brady Beck, and emergency physician Lt. Col. Gregory Stiller.

The GST functions primarily as a single surgeon team capable of providing Austere Resuscitative and Surgical Care in support of forward operating environments where limited or no health resources exist.

During their time at MSAB, the GST from PSAB facilitated workshops meant to educate other medical Airmen and also worked to sharpen their own skills as medical professionals. The team conducted everything from providing lectures regarding fracture management, assisting with neonatal care, conducting pre-screening surgery assessments, and even performing a C-section.

According to Maj. Parker Filmore, a surgeon with the GST, the varied and unpredictable nature of battlefield health care is part of the reason the team sought out the training opportunity.

"The exposure to austere medicine and logistics of small team movement learning lessons is what encouraged us to pursue additional opportunities and training," said Filmore.

While the care the GST provides is expeditionary in nature, it's far from simple health care. Lt. Col. Gregory Stiller, the emergency physician with the GST, says the team can provide a variety of complicated procedures meant to stabilize severe battlefield injuries even in the most remote environments.

“Overall [the] goal is to stop bleeding and stabilize trauma as soon as possible [to] improve survival rates,” said Stiller. “Primary procedures are triage, airway stabilization, chest tubes, blood administration, orthopedic stabilization, and internal injury damage control surgery.”

Performing medical procedures in rugged, austere environments produces a variety of unique challenges. Things like ensuring the cleanliness of the environment and guaranteeing triaged patients are in a stable location are just some of the things the GST has to take into consideration.

“Providing care in the forward deployed location has many challenges including logistics, travel, and resource-limited procedures,” said Filmore. “Keeping the environment as sterile as possible is another challenge in buildings of opportunity; the team also has to triage patients for surgery which means [they] may need to be kept stable while waiting."

For the GST, while the training offered invaluable experience in providing health care in the field, the real benefit was the opportunity to help those in need.

“Most rewarding aspect of our job is the opportunity to help the most critically injured and give them the best chance to survive.” Said Stiller.

During the 17-day TDY the GST was exposed to the realities of providing health care in austere environments. The key takeaway for the team was understanding the necessity to adapt to whatever situation they were presented with in order to provide the best care possible.

“GST is a highly specialized small team and this TDY allowed us to successfully demonstrate our capabilities and ability to adapt and overcome any obstacles that arose,” said Stiller. “This experience will provide valuable learning lessons for future teams to come.”