Kandahar troops, civilian first responders train together first time
May 18, 2009
As the gray smoke dissipates, men and women lie scattered on the gravel in the immediate area. 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 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
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 inter-operational ability between U.S. first responders and first responders of other agencies," said Master Sgt. Reed Witherite, the 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 supposedly 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.
Generally, the term first responder describes emergency responders normally associated with public safety whose job it is to preserve life and property. Besides the U.S. military police, the first responders of the exercise included the NAMSA-operated fire department and paramedics.
After the detonation, first responders moved the wounded to a casualty collection point, then simulated triage. Triage is the practice of evaluating victims and deciding on priority of treatment, based on the seriousness of the injuries.
Mr. Mark T. Barabe, the project manager of the NAMSA-contracted medical crash crew services explained that medics will sometimes ignore loudly-verbal patients and attend those less conscious.
"Yelling and screaming take a lot of energy," said Barabe. "When you stop, we have to evaluate the situation."
According to Barabe, 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 MP NCOIC.
Since the medical crash crew services here had to be prepared in case a real-world situation arose, only one medical response team participated, said Barabe. In future exercises, a different team will be used until eventually all teams will have completed this vital training.
Another preparatory measure taken by the medical crash crew services is cross-training or training each team member to fill each job, if needed.
According to Barabe, a mass-casualty incident in the U.S. would usually be the result of a fire or natural disaster. In Afghanistan, an enemy attack is often the cause of a mass-casualty incident.
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 Mr. Desi Wade, chief fire inspector of the NAMSA-contracted fire rescue crash services.
The role players were also a vital part of the exercise. Military police sent a base-wide message to U.S. forces on KAF asking for volunteers. Servicemembers from Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan, U.S. Air Force 451st Air Expeditionary Group and the U.S. 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 Lt. Col. Richard O. Wilson, the JSC-A executive officer of Regional Support Group Provisional KAF. Besides participating in this exercise, Wilson has evaluated and participated in airport mass casualty exercises back in the U.S. as a civilian.
"The medical personnel had extra stress put on them," said Spc. Hollyann Greenwood, an administrative specialist in the 143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command's Headquarter and Headquarter Company. "In a real life situation, if this were to occur, not everyone [who was injured] would remain calm."
Greenwood simulated 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 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 non-walking victim needing 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 evacuating victims, Operation Roundup commenced and the military police gathered suspects into a cordoned-off area.
Warrant Officer 3 Jeffery L. Rhoades and 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," said Lopez. "No matter what, we now know where it needs to be, how we need to communicate and how we need to work together."
Although there were some issues were identified during the exercise, most evaluators believed the exercise was successful.
"I'm glad that KAF is finally conducting these training exercises," said Wilson. "Because it's very real that we could have a real occurrence of mass-casualties [here]."
Other exercises are planned for the near future by several different units and organizations at KAF.