Training teaches medics how to 'operate' in hostile areas
by 2nd Lt. William Powell
325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
11/3/2005 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- A Tyndall Airman quickly took a position in the dirt and aimed his M-16 rifle as a group of suspicious-looking men carrying AK-47 assault rifles hid behind a bush.
However, the men left without incident and the Airman avoided a potentially deadly firefight.
This may sound like a dangerous confrontation in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the exercise scenario took place a lot closer to home -- here. Fortunately for both the Airman and the potential terrorists, everyone was using blanks.
The good and “bad” guys were all members of the 325th Medical Group who were participating in their biannual field medical unit readiness training exercise at the Silver Flag site here.
The event trained medics how to do more than what’s written in their job description, especially in a deployed environment with limited supplies and manpower. In addition to treating numerous simulated injuries and battle wounds, Airmen defended their perimeter against almost constant attacks, received convoy training, conducted rescue missions, learned land navigation and established a functioning base from scratch.
“The civil engineers are not always going to be there to set up the base,” said Capt. John Lane, the 325th MDG chief of readiness and the event coordinator. “And if you’re assigned to a unit from another service branch like the Army or Navy, they’re going to expect you to pull your own weight.”
Since many forward-deployed locations have become joint-service operations, members of local Army and Navy installations were invited to help train the medics.
“We were there to teach the Airmen how to set up security around the base because they don’t normally do that,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Boyer, a military police officer assigned to Naval Support Activity in Panama City, Fla. “But the fun part was the second day when we tested them all day by shooting at them and trying to steal their vehicles.”
Gunfire could be heard throughout the second day as the trainers frequently attacked the Airmen patrolling the base’s perimeter and those who ventured outside the base to rescue injured people.
The gun battles were designed to show the medics they may be realistically called upon to defend themselves, or their patients, if attacked, said Captain Lane.
“When any of these medics deploy, they will deploy with at least one weapon," he said. "That’s why this training is so important. Not only will these medics know how to do their jobs, but they’ll also know how to survive.”
However, medics in combat don’t go out looking for a fight -- the fight finds them, said Lt. Col. Doug Howard, 325th Medical Operations Squadron commander.
There are still limitations set forth by the Geneva Conventions.
“Medics have always carried some sort of weapon, so that hasn’t changed, but the environment and how we fight has changed since (Operation) Desert Storm,” he said. “(The U.S. military) fights in much smaller forces, but farther forward. We fight in hot spots without clear lines. Surgeons are on the front lines and medics are riding in convoys. (Everyone) has to know how to defend and protect themselves.”
Air Force medics are frequently tasked to support Army and Marine Corps combat missions, so learning how to effectively communicate with the other services is also extremely important, Captain Lane said.
“Part of this training was meant to overcome the different terminology and language barriers between the services,” Captain Lane said. “This will help reduce the lag time when we need to get things done.”
Army Maj. Chris Colacicco, a UH-1 helicopter pilot, agreed. He and his flight crew from Fort Rucker, Ala., gave the Airmen air-evacuation training.
“This kind of joint training is extremely important because we know what we can expect from the Air Force, and the Air Force knows what they can expect from us,” said Major Colacicco, who participated in Tyndall’s exercise once before.
The joint-service participation and the advanced combat training ended up making this exercise one of the best ever, said Tech. Sgt. Rory Darby, the 325th MDG expeditionary medical operations NCO in charge.
“I’ve done this twice a year for five years and it keeps getting better and better,” he said. “And this year’s was the best yet.”
Captain Lane said he was also pleased with how well the group did.
“We put wartime stressors on people and I believe everyone did exceptionally well,” the captain said. “Everyone should feel more confident as both medics and Air Force warriors.”
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