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21st CSH exercises mobile trauma center

Email   Print   Share By Sgt. Tanangachi Mfuni, 7th MPAD
September 19, 2013 | News
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TOP, Sgt. Martin Ayala lies on an operating table as he is prepped for surgery. Ayala was one of dozens of role players who participated in the 21st CSH’s mass casualty exercise Sept. 12 at Fort Hood. A medic in the Army Reserve, Ayala said he was impressed with the unit’s communication and efficiency. LEFT, The guidon for the 21st CSH’s Company B flies near the field hospital’s entrance during a mass casualty exercise Sept. 12. The 21st CSH falls under the 1st Medical Brigade. The unit’s motto is “Fear Not.” RIGHT, Surgical technician Sgt. Cedric Martin performs an external fixation surgery to repair an open fracture during the 21st Combat Support Hospital’s mass casualty exercise Sept. 12 at Fort Hood. The 21st CSH’s field hospital is equipped with a sterilization area and an operating room with two tables. The hospital can perform up to 12 surgeries per day. Photo Illustration by Ila Stuart, Sentinel Graphic Designer; Photos by Sgt. Tanangachi Mfuni, 7th MPAD
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Air and ground medical evacuation teams play a key role in the 21st CSH’s mass casualty exercise Sept. 12 at Fort Hood. Once patients were delivered to the landing zone, they were whisked away to the nearby hospital by a waiting ambulance. The 21st CSH is a Level II and III trauma center. Sgt. Tanangachi Mfuni, 7th MPAD
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Pfc. Kevin Gay, a 20-year-old medic, works in the expectant section of the 21st CSH during a mass casualty exercise Sept. 12. In the expectant section, Gay tended to the mortally wounded (man-sized medical mannequins). A medic for a little over 18-months, Gay said he welcomes as much hands-on training as he can get. Sgt. Tanangachi Mfuni, 7th MPAD
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Medic Sgt. Eric Trevino examines the X-ray of a casualty’s right hand during the 21st CSH’s mass casualty exercise Sept. 12 at Fort Hood. Sgt. Tanangachi Mfuni, 7th MPAD
It was not a good morning for Sgt. Martin Ayala.

The 49-year-old Army reservist from Menifee, Calif., was on his way to the latrine around 9 a.m. Sept. 12, when “BOOM,” an improvised explosive device rocked his base. The blast knocked Ayala, a medic, off his feet, searing him and breaking his leg and arm.

Chaos ensued. Dozens of other dazed, fatigue-clad casualties sprawled around Ayala groaning in pain or confusion.

Fortunately for Ayala and the others injured, the explosion wasn't real. Neither was the blood, nor the pain. What was real, however, was the medical response to this mass casualty exercise.

Within minutes, fellow Soldiers ushered Ayala into an ambulance that promptly delivered him and other casualties to the 21st Combat Support Hospital, a mobile trauma center that can be erected in a matter of hours in the middle of nowhere.

Medics rushed Ayala to a sterile operating room where 6-foot-3 surgical technician Sgt. Cedric Martin hovered over him, drilling and stitching to save what remained of Ayala's right leg.

“It's 10 times worse when it's real,” said Martin, who has deployed to southwest Afghanistan, “(Here,) we don't have blood spurting everywhere.Despite the absence of spurting blood, Martin said the exercise gave him and other members of his unit a valuable threshold of knowledge they can draw from when a real life crisis hits.

The 21st CSH commander, Col. Wendy Harter, wants her Soldiers to not only know their jobs, but accomplish their mission as a team.

“We're going to have to do this anywhere in the world, anytime the nation calls,” Harter, a medical plans and operations officer whose unit falls under 1st Medical Brigade, said.

“Our Soldiers, after going through all this training, are now prepared to do that,” Harter added.

The mass casualty event was the culmination of a weeklong training exercise in which 21st CSH Soldiers exceeded standards.

Barely 36 hours after arriving on a patch of gravel west of 19th Street and Murphy Road, the 21st CSH erected its field hospital. This green hive of interconnected tents housed an impressive 44 beds and was outfitted with a pharmacy, lab, operating room, intensive care ward, chaplain and even veterinary services. The standard set-up time for this type of facility is 72 hours. The 21st CSH halved that.

More than exceeding a standard or achieving perfection, for 21st CSH Soldiers, the real value of the exercise was refining personal and team capabilities.

At the climax of the daylong exercise, the generator-powered hospital zipped with energy.

Medics rhythmically pulled casualties off the back of a truck onto wheeled litters. Some of the injured had limbs ripped off, others severe burns, others still suffered head trauma.

The most critical were rushed into the emergency medical treatment, or EMT section, where medic Pfc. Michael White and other 21st CSH Soldiers performed triage.

“It's all hands on deck,” said White, describing the EMT section's frenetic pace where swiftness and professional detachment are the harried staff's unspoken mantra.

“You don't have time to really stress,” White observed. The 26-year-old busied himself administering fluids intravenously and dressing wounds.

“You don't get overwhelmed because you've been trained,” he said.

At the conclusion of the exercise, after successfully assisting with the treatment of a truck full of casualties suffering an array of gory injuries, White, like many of the 21st CSH Soldiers, was not ready to sit on his laurels. When he spoke of the exercise, his manner was more introspective than self-congratulatory.

“I'm thinking about what I could have done better,” he said, understanding that although he was participating in a training exercise, it was nonetheless one more step to prepare him for combat.

He said he appreciated that there could be lessons learned this day when someday the training would be put to the test in a life or death situation, so he can truly own his unit’s motto: Fear Not.
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