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Malmstrom medics compete in 2023 Medic Rodeo

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Elora J. McCutcheon
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

For the first time in six years, a team of medics from the 341st Medical Group went toe-to-toe against 16 other competing teams during this year’s iteration of Medic Rodeo at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, Aug. 21-25.

The team — comprised of 1st Lt. Parker Harris, Resource Management Office flight commander, Staff Sgt. Eric Hoff, noncommissioned officer in charge of the base operational medical cell, Staff Sgt. Matthew LeSage, Personnel Reliability Assurance Program administration technician, and Airman 1st Class Madeline DeRousse, women’s health medical technician — trained for the 14th annual medical competition for months leading up to the four-day event.

Led by Capt. Alexander Ortiz, 341st MDG physician assistant, the four Airmen were challenged physically and mentally during long days of competition scenarios to better prepare them to provide care in a contingency environment.

Col. Christopher Backus, Air Force Global Strike Command Surgeon General, opened the ceremony to kickstart the week for nearly 70 participants:

“Those of you here today were picked as our 17 elite teams to bring knowledge from this competition back to your home stations,” he said. “The patient injuries and illnesses you will see are based on real experiences by Air Force medics; they will be extremely realistic and challenging.”

The rodeo was split into three major events, all designed to train competitors on tactical combat casualty care (TCCC) and the new Air Force Medical Service initiative: Medic-X.

According to LeSage, TCCC was built out of necessity when lessons learned from the Global War on Terror included research that proved there were three major preventable causes of death on the battlefield: massive blood loss, pneumothorax, and airway obstruction. As a result, the four main things carried in a medical supply backpack are now tourniquets, needles for chest decompressions, seals for sucking chest wounds, and nasopharyngeal airways.

With Medic-X, every Air Force medic, including those not directly involved in patient care like administrators or lab technicians, will need to be proficient in 52 skills that will ensure the Air Force’s medical force is ready for the next fight.

In addition to TCCC and Medic-X, medics saw innovative incorporation of virtual reality training and the Battlefield Assisted Trauma Distributed Observation Kit. The BATDOK system uses sensors to allow medics to track a patient’s vitals from their smartphones or other devices. Technological advancements are a primary focus as the medical service aims to enhance patient care and technician training.

Each competing team was made up of two clinical medics and two non-clinical medics. The scenarios they faced during Medic Rodeo were meant to challenge them on skills they will need in a deployed environment where the priority won’t be completing administrative tasks, it will be saving lives.

The Airmen saw a causal sequence of injuries and illnesses all relating to a simulated train derailment: compound fractures, traumatic amputations, femoral artery bleeds, collapsed lungs, closed head trauma, massive blood loss, compromised airways, impaled object and third-degree burns. Their responses included assessing pain levels, infection control, taking a patient’s vital signs, assisting with spinal immobilization, patient movement, respiratory care and more.

In each scenario, the team was graded on their ability to assess potential life-threatening conditions and perform the right medical treatments in the right order to keep their patients alive until they could be transported to the nearest treatment facility.

“The chaos [of the scenarios] was literally insane,” DeRousse said of the competition. “There were gunshots and explosions, there was smoke so we couldn’t see all the time; we were doing trauma and treatment in dark rooms with itty-bitty red headlamps…all around, everything was absolutely insane. It was stuff we had never seen before.”

Beyond the tests competitors faced during the various scenarios, the weather in New Mexico was its own challenge; temperatures soared unforgivingly toward 100º and a lack of cloud coverage meant the sun bore down without restraint. Foreheads quickly became slick with sweat, cheeks were flushed and t-shirts soaked through with the effort exerted by the competing medics.

“The days were long, it was really hot, and the team was drained not only physically, but mentally,” said Ortiz. “We put a lot of hours in over the last few months and trained almost every single day for the better part of the past three weeks to prepare.”

Ortiz hand-selected his team based on tryout performances. In the end, he selected four hard-charging individuals who melded into one symbiotic entity that prioritized communication and the basics of their training.

Despite the medical clinic at Malmstrom not having an ambulance service or the facilities for emergency medicine, Ortiz was determined to set his team up to compete against the opposing teams, many of whom had much more real-world experience.

“Bottom line is we’re all in the military, and we all signed on the dotted line to defend our nation,” Ortiz said of the expectation that all medics, no matter their position, be prepared to respond in a deployed environment. “We’re expected to render care not only to our military personnel, but also civilians and potentially even enemies.”

On scene, under pressure from a ticking clock and screaming patients (and cadre), Malmstrom’s team efficiently organized themselves in a flurry. They reassessed their 20-pound supply backpack before each scenario, which was strategically organized by which lifesaving treatment they needed to administer without wasting time: tourniquets and trauma bandages to stop bleeding; nasopharyngeal airways and bag-valve masks to supplement breathing; intravenous catheters and fluids to replace blood loss; cervical collars, hypothermia blankets, and other lifesaving tools.

“[When it comes to TCCC], we just want to stop any massive bleeding since you can die within three minutes of a traumatic amputation of the leg, [for example],” LeSage described of the first phase in TCCC application. “Once we get somewhere relatively safe and secure, we can move into phase two, where we go through a constant cycle of assessing the five biggest things that can kill you in the field, in the order of how quickly they can kill you. Phase three is evacuation, while we continue to reassess the patient’s injuries and our interventions.”

In between the timed scenarios, the team recounted their performance and assessed the steps taken to complete their mission. Conversation was hurried and intentional as they sought feedback and validation from one another.

The shared stress of Medic Rodeo only brought the team closer, according to DeRousse, who said everything they endured together will only help them in the long run when they return home and continue improving skills demanded by the Medic-X initiative.

“We’re taking back real deployment scenarios, which I hope to implement in training days for the clinic,” DeRousse explained. “Personally, I’m also taking away great friends and camaraderie between us that we didn’t have before. [The goal now] is to help train the next team who will come in after us.”

The 15th annual Medic Rodeo is scheduled to return next year with more innovative ideas, and a team from Malmstrom that will be ready to finally earn their place as the top Air Force medics.