Tuesday, February 8, 2011
MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. - Late at night, all remains quiet inside a field tent except for the humming sounds of fluorescent lights and generators.
Radio chatter alerts the corpsmen on duty and they begin prepping the battalion aid station for patients they will soon receive.
The corpsmen of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, will spend much of the night treating Marines who have hypothermia, Acute Mountain Sickness, and other injuries while at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center.
As the Marines of 1/1 operate during Exercise Mountain Warrior 06-10 during the month of July, their corpsmen remain ready to ensure everyone makes it down the Sierra Mountains alive and ready to deploy in complex and chaotic operating environments.
“The corpsmen’s performance has been excellent,” said Navy Lt. Michael K. Sracic, the medical officer for 1/1. “I’m always impressed by our corpsmen. We did a lot of training so we could be prepared if there were any altitude issues, they’d be vigilant and remain safe and overall help the Marines here.”
The Marines of 1/1 continuously trust their corpsmen with their lives and have first hand seen their work in combat.
“I put the upmost faith in my corpsmen and it feels good to know someone is there to look after us,” said Sgt. Timothy L. Glaze, a squad leader with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company. “I’ve witnessed them save lives before and they’ve saved my buddies lives in combat.”
Medical staff with 1/1 has been at MCMWTC for more than a week and have dealt with heat cases, minor injuries and a few cases of AMS.
“From what I’ve experienced out here, Marines go up to a higher elevation, they start experiencing the symptoms of AMS, they start having panic attacks, shortness of breath, feeling freaked out, dizziness, feeling drunk,” said Navy Seaman Brandon J. Potters, a corpsman with 1/1. “It’s what a lot of the corpsmen are taught to tell their Marines about, if you have a buddy that starts acting funny you need to get a corpsman over there to see what’s going on.”
Marines who start feeling the symptoms of AMS, heat injuries or other problems are brought to the battalion aid station if problems persist.
“A few nights ago, seven patients came in and we had to utilize our skills, using IV’s, keeping them warm and giving them oxygen and medication,” added Potters.
The staff has many tools at their disposal to keep patients stable and alive if serious illness or injuries occur to the 1,041 Marines and sailors.
“We’ve been really fortunate not to have any broken legs or arms,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert W. Staton, a corpsman with 1/1. “Because of some of the injuries we have seen, we’re really lucky. No battalion before has brought up some of the [resources]. Because the fact that we did and we’ve come fully prepared with all our stuff, we’re the first battalion that’s been self reliant on the BAS here, and rarely use the clinic here. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
As weeks go by and Marines continue to train, the corpsmen know injuries can happen at any time.
“It takes six weeks to fully acclimatize to the altitude, we are here for only three,” said Potters. “We can’t fully acclimatize and we are still out there training, giving 110 percent. We may feel like we are used to it but we quite aren’t.”
Having treated the Marines’ injuries, the corpsmen try and get some rest as the sun rises over the mountains and a new day begins for the Battalion. They know their sleep could be interrupted at any moment by more Marines in need of their care. Lack of sleep is a price they are willing to pay to ensure every Marine makes it home from any mission any time.
This is part two of an ongoing series featuring the training 1/1 is doing during Exercise Mountain Warrior.