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Joint Medical Exercise Trains for Future Interoperability

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, July 9, 2015 — One of the largest Defense Department field medical training exercises, combining 1,600 active-duty and reserve personnel from 17 states and three countries, wrapped up June 26.

Exercises Global Medic and Combined Joint Atlantic Serpent came together for the first time beginning June 6 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, for the two-week exercise involving U.S., British and Canadian medical forces, Joint Staff officials said.

Army Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Nadja Y. West, the Joint Staff surgeon, explained that in a simulated combat-medicine scenario, the joint exercise helps prepare active-duty and reserve troops from all three countries with capabilities for any situation they could be called upon to support in the future. In addition to combat medical scenarios, the exercise also included scenarios for potential humanitarian and disaster relief missions, she noted.

Partner Interoperability

Critical partner interoperability, an important element from an international standpoint, is outlined in the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations written by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, West said. The chairman places a premium on partnerships and emphasizes that in the current environment, the United States has to rely on global partners, she added.

“To have our medical partners participate allows us [to] practice interoperability” for future missions, the general said. The interoperability piece was important, West said, because although the basics of medicine are universal, types of equipment and medical terminology can vary from nation to nation. And whenever partners can exercise together, they learn from one another, she said.

A Benefit to Joint Force 2020

The joint exercise also supports the chairman’s vision of support for Joint Force 2020, West said. And because interoperability is a high Joint Staff priority, “future operations and conflicts will most likely require small-footprint, agile, adaptable units,” she explained. “We have to be prepared for any scenario.”

Global partner capacity also assists DoD in meeting its national security objectives in a timely manner, West said. “Some will say the future is unknown and unknowable,” she said. But the one thing that can be known is that the attributes needed to respond quickly in any environment are agility and adaptability, she added. “So it will take leaders at all levels to be able to maneuver in [any] environment,” she said.

Lessons Learned Shared

The joint exercise helped to capture lessons that can inform the future, West noted. The ingenuity and innovation of young service members “will allow each nation to enhance their capabilities by working together and identifying capabilities that can be improved,” she said.

U.S. military medical personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan helped to formulate what is now becoming the DoD standard for seamless procedures such as evacuation and joint-trauma registry protocols, West said. “Standard procedures and new, innovative techniques to increase survivability” identified during those 13 years of war were used in the exercise, she said.

West visited Fort McCoy and observed a simulated mass casualty event as well as the preparation of “mock casualties” at a moulage center, where surgical teams used mannequins and “cut suits” –- made of silicon with Kevlar covering -- to practice trauma procedures. Robotics ensured the simulated bodies seemed “real,” with eyes that blinked and pupils that reacted, West said.

Training Was Innovative, Realistic

A lot of innovative techniques were being practiced, she said, which created a very good and robust training opportunity for all of the medical personnel at the event. Bringing both active-duty and the reserve component together also added to the benefits of the joint, three-nation exercise.

“It cannot be overstated how important our reserve component is,” West said. “We rely heavily on our reserve colleagues.”

Exercises are crucial to readiness, she added, and the medical element is just as important. “When you really look deeper into what we do in [medicine], we are here as medics to make sure that America’s sons and daughters ... are taken care of,” West said. “That is what we take as a solemn responsibility.”

The training with medics carrying litters off helicopters was taken very seriously by participants, “because they knew the next time it might be a real person who is in dire need of medical services,” she said. “I was very pleased with the level of motivation, intensity -- the real willingness to learn and to perfect their craft.”

It was heartening to see they will be ready to care for wounded personnel if they are called upon, West added.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)