Fort Lewis MSTC teaches Soldiers how to save wounded comrades
March 5, 2009
By Don Kramer
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the Army anything, it's that modern Soldiers need to possess skills beyond their MOS to complete the mission and return home safely.
It is not unheard of for truck drivers or engineers to find themselves engaged with the enemy after a convoy ambush and in need of infantry skills they may not have trained on for some time.
Likewise, a Soldier may be wounded by gunfire or an IED and need medical attention, but not be within yelling distance of a medic.
These are the types of situations I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe and 1st Sgt. John Blue, who serves as the academy's commandant, along with others, aimed to address with the creation of the Warrior Training Academy.
Grippe and Blue describe the WTA as being a roof held up by four pillars: the Fort Lewis Combatives School, the Combat Marksmanship Course, the Asymmetrical Warfare/Counter-IED Team and the Medical Simulation Training Center.
Much like the AW/C-IED, the MSTC had already been a working entity prior to the WTA's creation last September - its services have simply gone to serve the purpose of the WTA in addition to its other responsibilities.
The MSTC has an array of courses that teach life-saving techniques based on the principles of Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3) including Combat Medical Advanced Skills, Basic Life Support CPR, EMT National Registry as well as the EMT Refresher course.
The center's bread-and-butter course, however, is the Combat Lifesaver course.
"That's our big one," said Tom Pingel who serves as the technical oversight representative and course director for the MSTC of the CLS.
The CLS is a four-day course geared toward the non-medical types that uses the TC3 principles to teach Soldiers how to treat severe bleeding, perform a needle chest decompression for a tension pneumothorax and manage a wounded Soldier's airway with a nasopharyngeal, which is a tube shoved up the nose to enable breathing.
Pingel said the skills learned in this course can be the difference between a fellow Soldier surviving or dying.
"The likelihood of a medic being at the point of wounding is remote," Pingel said. "So the days of calling and waiting for the medic to come out are over. We need to train everybody how to do those basic life saving skills."
Pingel said the great thing about the CLS is the fact that it is so hands-on; Soldiers only spend a day and a half in the classroom; the rest of the time is spent actually performing tasks.
On the final day of the course, Soldiers are broken into teams of six and have to negotiate an obstacle course, complete the Engagement Skills Trainer and then provide proper care for several "wounded Soldiers" played by expensive, bleeding, blinking and breathing dummies with pulses.
The obstacle course is designed to physically and mentally wear out the Soldiers. As they make their way through the course, the opening scene from "Saving Private Ryan" blares over speakers, adding a sense of realism.
The team must first combat crawl through a shallow trench filled with water and move in behind a junker car labeled a "taxi." The team then has to move up to an injured dummy near a downed motorcycle and provide care. The Soldiers then must load the dummy onto a litter and move it over two walls - the first about four-feet high, the second about six feet.
After clearing the second wall, the Soldiers must combat crawl under a stretch of low concertina wire - a task made more difficult for those carrying the litter as they must crawl and push the litter at the same time.
Once the litter and all Soldiers reach the medical tent, the obstacle course is over. However, there are simulated IEDs placed throughout the course so if one goes off, aid must be given to all "injured" Soldiers, which may complicate things.
The team then moves on to the EST.
The Soldiers move into a dark room and find a line of weapons lying on the ground about 20 feet in front of a big screen that turns into city streets full of engaging enemy. Soldiers grab the laser-modified M-16s, M-4s and 9 mms, which have real-life recoils and must be reloaded, and defeat the oncoming insurgents.
As the scenario unfolds, MSTC trainers will pick out Soldiers to be injured, and their teammates must administer the proper aid.
Once the EST ends, the team then moves into three dark rooms full of wounded dummies - some critically - and must save those who are at least breathing or have a pulse.
As strobe lights go off and smoke fills the room, Soldiers put their newly learned skills to work administering tourniquets, bandages, nasopharyngeals and needle chest decompressions as needed.
The scenario is over after an allotted amount of time and an instructor goes over the care given to each dummy and explains why what they did was right or wrong.
Though a major focus of the CLS is on triage, Pingel said there's still only one way to defeat the enemy.
"The main thing we're trying to teach people is that your best defense is to put rounds down range to defeat the enemy," he said. "Care under fire, the only thing you're going to do is move them to cover, assist them or talk them through putting a tourniquet on to stop any life-threatening hemorrhaging and then you put rounds down range. You can give more definitive care after you defeat the enemy or push them back."
Specialist Corey Rand of the Forward Support Company, 864th Engineer Battalion said the final day of the CLS was about as much like being in theater as you can have stateside.
"I liked the fact that the training was really hands-on," said Rand, who has spent time down range. "Today (was) so realistic. It wasn't pampered for us. We were all covered in mud and they made it as realistic as possible with the noise going on (to) get you in that kind of setting."
After completing the course, Pfc. Shawn Harmon of FSC, 864th Engr. Bn. said he "most definitely" wished he had had this training prior to his last deployment, but is glad he now has these skills for his next trip overseas.
"I feel a lot more confident coming up to a casualty," he said. "I love this training."
Like Rand and Harmon, Staff Sgt. Nathan Crabtree from the 672nd Engineer Company in Missoula, Mont., has been down range and took a CLS course in 2005. He feels that this training is much more beneficial.
"In '05, it was all classrooms and giving IVs (and) that's good basic knowledge," he said, "but it's not as good training as this was. They really looked at what the casualties were that we were losing down range and said 'OK, this is what you need to know.' I think they're doing a good job prepping these younger Soldiers who are getting ready to deploy. It's better than the prep I had before I went, a hundred times better."
Matt Smith is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.