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Philippine, U.S. militaries conduct mass casualty drills

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 3/8/2004

Story by Air Force Tech. Sgt Theo McNama

CLARK FIELD, Republic of the Philippines (March 5, 2004) -- Philippine and U.S. Armed Forces medical personnel practice their cooperative techniques in varied simulated medical emergency drills here in the beginning days of Exercise Balikatan 2004.

Exercise Balikatan 2004 is an annual exercise that runs through March 7 and is designed to improve combined planning, combat readiness and interoperability of the U.S. and Republic of the Philippine military forces an opportunity to hone their collective skills and cooperation.

On Monday, U.S. and Filipino medical personnel responded to a simulated aircraft accident on the South Ramp of Clark Field. Then Tuesday, U.S Navy and Marine servicemembers joined forces for a Casualty Evacuation of a downed Marine at Fort Magsaysay, about a 30-minute helicopter-flight from here.

The simulated aircraft accident was U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Tulis, flight surgeon with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-262, first opportunity to see how well prepared his team was to respond to an emergency.

"When we're called to respond to an emergency, my role as a duty flight surgeon is to make sure everybody is prepared to respond quickly with our assets," Tulis said.

And that's not as simple as it might appear at first. The medical clinic that houses this small team of doctors and enlisted medical personnel is tucked into a small room along the back wall of an old U.S. Air Force hangar that was left behind when the Air Force ceased operations in 1991 following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

The lieutenant and other members of this team have only the essentials to provide the basic care and thus rely heavily on the Philippines to provide the care a mobile unit isn't equipped to handle.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines for instance are providing the ambulance and paramedics for the exercise and potentially real-world emergencies, according to Tulis.

"The Filipino medical staff has been great to work with; they have been giving us a lot of support, both with their ambulance service and also with their hospital facility," Tulis said. "They also have a very knowledgeable staff."

But there are a few challenges this team of medical professionals had to contend with before becoming the quick, efficient team needed for this exercise.

Another source of transportation these medics and patients have come to rely on is the helicopter flown by U.S. Marine Maj. Karl Johnson, operations officer, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-262, to Fort Magsaysay to recover a simulated injured Marine and transport him to Clark where he was met by Philippine emergency medical technicians with a waiting ambulance.

"We don't often get a chance to fly casualty-evacuation missions, so when we're in the field and the medics need someone yanked, we're ready to lend our support," Johnson said.

So far the exercise scenarios have been very useful, according to several of the participants.

"Simulation are very useful," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Taylor. "Because medical emergency scenarios typically don't offer the visual clues that may also not be available to responders in real situations. Here they learn to rely on their education and training to determine what type of injury the patient is suffering with. This experience proves very useful during real-world situations, because the medics are familiar with the need to investigate and interrogate a patient to determine how to treat the patient."

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