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Military

CHAPTER IV

HEALTH SERVICES


The Trouble with Scout Platoon CASEVAC

by SFC James E. Hawley

Casualty evacuation--the thorn in the side of every visiting unit at the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC). With a battle raging, the OPFOR over-running, and the best thought-out plan falling to pieces, the last thing anyone wants to have to think about is casualty evacuation. But let's face it, even the perfect plan is likely to produce some casualties in a high intensity conflict. We have to expect casualties and plan for them, because we have an obligation to recover our injured teammates.

But CASEVAC for the task force scout platoon is especially hard to handle. The platoon's autonomy, its numerous mission-based structures, and its remote location in any given situation, all contribute to its CASEVAC troubles. Line units have a dedicated medical evacuation system (ground and air ambulances); the scout platoon does not. The scout platoon usually either begs pickups from follow-on units or tries to conduct the evacuation itself.

The rotation at CMTC provides the task force scout platoon an ideal opportunity to test and perfect evacuation procedures. Because the scout platoons always have casualties, the unit can try out different ideas on each mission. Unfortunately, most units do not take advantage of this important training opportunity. Instead, they play what we call "box rules."

BOX RULES: Units know there will be a change of mission. They also know that the observer/controllers (O/Cs) must gather everyone together for the platoon AAR at change of mission plus two. So.they can simply pick up the scouts from there. For an attack mission, units often send their scouts out deep with absolutely no CASEVAC plan except for the generic "the platoon sergeant can get them." The units do this because they know the O/Cs will ultimately help gather up the patrols from wherever they happen to be to expedite the next mission--box rules.

Rather than fine-tune evacuation procedures that could save the lives of their scouts, units get lazy and exploit the training environment. This practice is very dangerous. If the task force does not emphasize CASEVAC procedures for its scout platoon during training exercises, there is no hope for the scout platoon during real combat missions. In a training exercise, the unit can find out what doesn't work and then try something else. In real combat, there is seldom a second chance.

As a former scout platoon sergeant, I discovered the hard way that there are certain things a scout platoon sergeant must do to increase the odds for successful CASEVAC during a mission. For those who would rather learn from someone who's been there, I offer the following tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).

TTPs

HOME STATION TTPs.

1. CASEVAC coordination must begin at Home Station. The scout platoon sergeant needs to get face to face with the medical platoon sergeant to find out exactly what the medical platoon's capabilities are. These meetings inevitably lead to a synchronized effort and inherently produce a backup plan if the task force OPORD does not address the problem of CASEVAC during any mission. Conduct shared training with the medical platoon, and with other MEDEVAC units.

EXAMPLE: While a PSG, I set up quarterly sergeant's time training for air evacuation with the MEDEVAC crew. The flight crew used the first two hours to cover loading procedures, radio procedures, and special considerations for hot extractions. During the third hour, we conducted a patrol, ambushed it and inserted casualties. The patrol provided first aid of the wounds (combat lifesavers would actually start IVs) and call for the MEDEVAC. MEDEVAC would actually bring in the chopper and conduct two hot extractions.

2. Develop, maintain and use an SOP. Any good CASEVAC plan must be based on an SOP. Not the SOP your unit uses, but an internal scout platoon SOP. Sit your entire platoon down and discuss the problem, then listen and write down what you hear. You'd be surprised how many good ideas come from the private who was a casualty every single mission at CMTC.

  • Once you have your ideas, construct an SOP and send it around your platoon for additional comments. Try to think of any situation in which you may find yourself and plan for it.
  • Do not forget to include the medics on this; they can tell you what works, and what doesn't.
  • Once you've finalized the SOP, TEST IT OUT. Do not assume that because it sounds good, it works.

Go out to the local training area and test what you've written, and make changes as needed.

EXAMPLE: Our platoon created a CASEVAC SOP initially to dazzle the O/Cs at CMTC. But we found out that the deeper we investigated and researched, the more prepared we became. In testing out and revising the SOP, we drilled so much that crew CASEVAC procedures and the procedures for contacting other units to complete the chain actually became second nature.

3. Get as many Combat Lifesavers as you can. Most units show up with one Combat Lifesaver per crew. This is bare-bones okay, but what happens if the Combat Lifesaver is taken out? At CMTC it creates a nuisance. In real life, it causes real death. The more Combat Lifesavers you have, the more you're prepared in case of casualties.

EXAMPLE: Because we did not know who may become casualties at CMTC, our platoon coordinated with the task force CSM, the HHC 1SG, and the medical PSG to have the entire platoon certified as Combat Lifesavers all at one time. Yes, this took the platoon out of the loop for an entire week, but it yielded high payoff, not only at CMTC, but also during Operation DESERT STORM. The task force CSM understood the problems the scout platoon faced concerning casualties, and backed the plan fully.

4. Coordinate with company 1SGs early. Task forces will normally employ units in the same sector within the task force sector, just as scout platoons will normally employ scout teams in the same sectors within the task force sector. If this is the case, make sure scout team leaders coordinate with the appropriate 1SGs.

5. Drill, drill, and drill again. Nothing teaches better than practice. Practice CASEVAC drills weekly, even if it is only at the crew/team level, until the entire process is second nature to your personnel. Include shared training with the medics and even line units. The more you practice, the better you get.

FIELD TRAINING AND ACTUAL COMBAT TTPs.

1. Make sure the scout platoon sergeant is well embedded in the task force logistical chain. This means the scout platoon sergeant has all logistical support and freedom normally afforded to company 1SGs. The autonomy of the scout platoon makes it essential that the platoon sergeant become the logistical focal point. If he is not, the platoon becomes a burden to other organic units. For CASEVAC purposes, the scout platoon sergeant must have free access to the aviation logistics (A/L) net and the administration and logistics center (ALOC). He should be able to call for, and receive, his own CASEVAC through these channels (mission dependent).

2. The CSS annex of the task force order must specifically address scout platoon CASEVAC. Merely stating that follow-on units will evacuate the scouts is inadequate. The process begins at Home Station by developing a tight relationship among the scout platoon leader, platoon sergeant and the S4. The relationship matures in the field during the orders process. In an active relationship with scout platoon leadership, the S4 becomes fully aware of specific scout platoon requirements during the logistical operations of any given mission. The S4 is then better able to include scout-specific requirements during CASEVAC. If there is a question or concern by either the S4 or the scout platoon sergeant, either party will contact the other and discuss the issue, ensuring these concerns are addressed in the task force order.

3. Do not take the scout platoon sergeant out of the loop. Every parent unit within the task force structure has its point of contact for all logistical missions. The scout platoon is no different. The S4 or other agency is not equipped to conduct the logistical operations for the scout platoon. The scout platoon sergeant must coordinate and execute these missions to ensure things happen correctly. In the case of CASEVAC, the scout platoon sergeant must coordinate evacuation procedures either on site or remotely (depending on the mission). Those who think they can do it differently will find themselves treading deep water with no land in sight.

4. The S4 must make sure the scout platoon has a current copy of the CSS overlay. The S4 may consider giving the scout platoon sergeant the authority to activate casualty collection points (CCP) early. This allows the scout platoon to evacuate casualties either through internal assets or by using follow-on companies, while minimizing the amount of time the team or company 1SGs are away from the fight.

5. The scout platoon sergeant and company 1SGs must coordinate early. If these elements already have a good working relationship in garrison, this required coordination is all the easier. For any given mission, scout teams know what unit is adjacent. They should coordinate CASEVAC through that unit. Do not call the 1SG and tell him that he is going to be your CASEVAC. Coordinate the following information:

  • Mission of the scout team. A brief overview of the mission broken down into a few short sentences. The 1SG needs to know what the scout team is doing, but remember he has other things to do as well.
  • Probable route of the scout team. Try to let the 1SG know where the team is going and where they will be at any given time of the operation. This information is vital in case the team is hit and loses contact. The 1SG will then have an idea of where to look.
  • Point of contact. The 1SG should know to whom he will be talking. Take this one step further and ensure the team leader has made radio communications with the company.

6. Make sure all teams in the platoon give the platoon sergeant and platoon leader a copy of their intended route on any given mission. This enables the leaders to know where to look in case they lose contact with a team. Force the teams to routinely update locations. During high-risk missions, 30-minute situation reports are not often enough, especially when covering great distances. Dismounted patrols may consider updating locations every 15 minutes. This will isolate the search area into a smaller, tighter box in the event contact is lost.

7. Scout teams must be able to conduct and supervise CASEVAC operations themselves without waiting to be told to do so. There comes a time in the scout platoon sergeant's mission when he must decide which holds higher priority--the successful completion of the scout platoon's, and, therefore, task force's mission, or conducting CASEVAC of scout casualties. If the team is able to conduct self-evacuation, it must take the initiative to do so without being told. The scout platoon sergeant is first and foremost a scout and, if possible, must be allowed to conduct his mission to its fullest potential. The scout platoon leadership must sit down together early and brainstorm situations where teams may be required to coordinate and conduct their own evacuation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There are an infinite number of ways to ensure a better CASEVAC system for the task force scout platoon. With the mission and structure of the scout platoon, CASEVAC is naturally harder to conduct. Taking the extra training time to find the solution that best fits your unit's own situation and needs pays off in saving lives. We have an obligation as leaders to look out for the welfare of our soldiers. This obligation starts in training.


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