Kandahar Troops, Civilian First Responders Train Together
By Elisebet Freeburg
Special to American Forces Press Service
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, May 14, 2009 As the gray smoke dissipates, men and women lie scattered on the gravel. Some moan, some call for help and some are silent. These U.S. servicemembers are role players taking part in a force-protection exercise simulating a mass-casualty event here.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Rick Dickey, the morning shift leader of the U.S. provost marshall’s office at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, evaluates the simulated wounds of a role-player during a combined military and civilian mass-casualty exercise, April 30, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Elisebet Freeburg
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The U.S. military police operations for Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan's Task Force Anzio held the exercise April 30 in response to the Joint Forward Operating Base Force Protection Handbook directive. The directive requires a force-protection exercise to be held and evaluated annually. Force protection describes actions used to prevent and combat hostile actions against military personnel and facilities.
Task Force Anzio Force Protection 90-01 involved both the U.S. military police and NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency contracted civilians.
"The exercise was to test interoperational ability between U.S. first responders and first responders of other agencies," said Army Master Sgt. Reed Witherite, noncommissioned officer in charge of Task Force Anzio U.S. military police operations.
The scenario revealed that terrorists paid a suspect $100 to place a bag of what supposedly was coin rolls on the ground and then take pictures as Americans fought over the quarters. One device exploded, and a second device was to be found. Smoke canisters simulated the explosion and signified the beginning of the exercise.
Besides the U.S. military police, the first responders of the exercise included the NATO agency’s fire department and paramedics.
After the detonation, first responders moved the wounded to a casualty collection point, then simulated triage, in which medical personnel evaluated victims and decided on priority of treatment, based on the seriousness of the injuries.
Mark T. Barabe, the project manager of the NATO-contracted medical crash crew services, explained that medics sometimes ignore loudl patients and attend those less conscious.
"Yelling and screaming take a lot of energy," he said. "When you stop, we have to evaluate the situation."
Barabe said a medical response team normally has four members: a physician, nurse, paramedic and driver. Besides performing triage and evacuating the wounded, the medics' responsibilities included communicating with the explosive ordnance disposal team, the incident commander, the fire chief and the military police.
Since the medical crash crew services here had to be prepared in case a real-world situation arose, only one medical response team participated, Barabe said. In future exercises, a different team will be used until eventually all teams will have completed this vital training, he added.
Another preparatory measure taken by the medical crash crew services is cross-training or training each team member to fill each job, if needed.
Barabe said a mass-casualty incident in the United States usually would be the result of a fire or natural disaster. In Afghanistan, an enemy attack often is the cause of a mass-casualty incident, he noted.
Besides the paramedics, the fire department responded to the exercise scene.
"The fire department was tasked with incident command, fire extinguishment, search and rescue, and victim removal," said Desi Wade, chief fire inspector of the NATO-contracted fire rescue crash services.
The role players also were a vital part of the exercise. Military police sent a basewide message to U.S. forces on the airfield asking for volunteers. Servicemembers from Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan, the Air Force’s 451st Air Expeditionary Group and the Marine Corps’ Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 362 participated.
"Putting people under stress in a training environment was for the [betterment] of the first responders in a real occurrence," said Air Force Lt. Col. Richard O. Wilson, the JSC-A executive officer of the provisional regional support group here. Wilson has evaluated and participated in airport mass casualty exercises back in the United States as a civilian.
"The medical personnel had extra stress put on them," said Army Spc. Hollyann Greenwood, an administrative specialist in the 143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command's Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "In a real-life situation, if this were to occur, not everyone [who was injured] would remain calm."
Greenwood played the role of a disgruntled and burned explosion victim who badgered medical personnel while they were treating the more severely wounded.
Another training scenario was how the first-responders would handle treating someone they could not understand.
"I was lying on the ground asking for help in English and Spanish," said Army Staff Sgt. Carmen E. Ayala-Cruz, a Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan support operations noncommissioned officer, "I was having a lot of pain in my left foot."
Cruz played a victim who couldn’t walk and needed a left foot amputation whose predominant spoken language was Spanish. The medics had to diagnose the severity of her wounds without being able to ask her questions.
After victims were evacuated, Operation Roundup commenced, and the military police gathered suspects into a cordoned-off area.
Army Warrant Officer 3 Jeffery L. Rhoades and Army Master Sgt. Daniel Lopez, both of JSC-A safety, viewed the exercise to ensure a safe environment for all participants.
"The biggest milestone was just to have it and get all these units involved," Lopez said. "No matter what, we now know where it needs to be, how we need to communicate and how we need to work together."
Although some problems were identified, most evaluators believed the exercise was successful.
"I'm glad that [Kandahar Airfield] is finally conducting these training exercises," Wilson said, "because it's very real that we could have a real occurrence of mass-casualties."
Several units and organizations at the airfield are planning other exercises in the near future.
(Elisebet Freeburg works at the Joint Sustainment Command Afghanistan public affairs office.)