Wednesday, February 9, 2011

13th MEU Corpsmen train to care for Marines in flight

NAVAL AIR STATION POINT MUGU, Calif. – Whenever a wounded Marine needs dire medical attention inside a combat zone, helicopters provide the means to get them to the care they require. However, during this casualty evacuation, each passing minute in flight subtracts from the Marine’s golden hour. During this indefinite time period, prompt medical treatment helps prevent further trauma or death.

Corpsmen from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have a plan to add minutes to the golden hour on their upcoming deployment. They will bring the medical care en route to the Marines, from inside the helicopters. The 13th MEU will deploy as the first West Coast MEU to have en route medical care during CASEVAC missions.

To begin building proficiency for this mission, a staff of four corpsmen began working together with air crew from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), to orient themselves with the helicopters during Realistic Urban Training at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif., Sept. 28-30.

“This is going to be the first flights for them and they’ll be getting oriented to the profiles of the aircraft, learning how to work in the aircraft and how to work with the aircrews,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Chris Thorne, the medical planner with the 13th MEU. “We’re having to create this model from scratch because no other MEU’s on the West Coast have been doing it…ever. It is a lost skill set. When we first talked about using the CH-46’s for hoisting the litters it actually took everyone a little bit aback because it’s just not a skill set that’s trained for anymore; to do casualty hoisting into CH-46’s. It’s just a competency that hasn’t been required or utilized.”

Pilots and crew chiefs with HMM-163 (Rein) lifted a 180 pound mannequin on a sked stretcher into CH-46E “Sea Knight” hovering 30 ft off the deck as safely and urgently as possible during the CASEVAC rehearsals.

“To successfully conduct a CASEVAC it all starts with preparation, proper configuration of the aircraft and making sure all the crew members in the aircraft are proficient in CASEVAC missions,” said Sgt. David J. Kelly, a crew chief with HMM-163 (Rein.). “It’s also about being flexible and adapting to missions and making sure everything is in place to get the mission accomplished.”

Once inside the helicopter, the corpsmen moved the mannequins into position to administer medical treatment.

“I’ve already become more familiar with how the air crew operates and as time goes by I’m going to get more comfortable with working in the aircraft,” said Navy Seaman Anthony Weber, a corpsman with Combat Logistics Battalion 13, 13th MEU. “This training is definitely going to impact our ability to take care of Marines in a new way that we’ve never been able to. I’m going to learn new things. It’s definitely a whole different perspective that’s a whole different change of medical care from what we are used to on the ground.”

Thorne and the CASEVAC staff will review the photos and video taken by combat correspondents and combat camera Marines and find ways to improve on the work they did.

“One of the last missions went really, really well, the Maritime Raid Force did an awesome job packaging and using some hoisting techniques that were creative in moving the patient and getting him up to the flight deck” said Thorne. “The air CASEVAC crew has sharpened their skills and we timed out at over just two minutes from time on hover over the flight deck to when the casualty was onboard the aircraft which is really a great time. It’s a night and day difference between when we started doing these CASEVACS and where we are at now. With that said, now we have lots of reps to go to keep refining that skill and keep on building on it.”

Though the training at RUT highlighted their capabilities, the preparation they do in the months ahead will increase their proficiency, with the documentation of the training benefiting the Naval Medicine community.

Whether wounded Marines spend three minutes or three hours in flight, the corpsmen can help give wounded Marines more minutes on the golden hour as the 13th MEU demonstrates its dedication to putting its Marines and sailors first.

This story is part one of a series chronicling the CASEVAC training 13th MEU corpsmen conduct in preparation for deployment.

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