By Sgt. Steven PetersonAugust 1, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- It's almost too realistic -- the darkness, smoke, flashing lights, yelling, bodies strewn across the ground, blood -- all used in a facility on Fort Drum that trains military medical professionals for combat emergencies.
Fort Drum's Bridgewater-Vaccaro Medical Simulation Training Center, or MSTC, has trained thousands of medics and Soldiers in the Northeast. The intense training also is available to deploying surgeons, federal health care providers and members of joint service agencies who wish to attend.
The Fort Drum MSTC was named after Technician Fifth Grade Horace A. Bridgewater and Cpl. Angelo J. Vaccaro. Both Soldiers were 10th Mountain Division medics, and each was awarded a Silver Star for his actions on the battlefield. Bridgewater was killed during World War II, and Vaccaro died during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in 2006. They represent old and new combat medicine for the facility, and they embody the spirit of the combat medic.
The staff at the MSTC provides students with skills needed to address a litany of combat casualties. At the training center, students learn lessons off the battlefield that they don't teach in the advance individual training that Soldiers receive.
"You don't want to wait to learn the hard lesson on the battlefield," said Capt. Martin Stewart, Fort Drum Medical Simulation Training Center officer in charge. "The more lifelike the training, the better they do in combat."
Stewart has worked at the facility for two years. He offers courses to anyone who wishes to attend, and his staff makes sure students get as real to life training as possible.
"There are times when we have more than five classes going on at once," Stewart said. "We make sure our Soldiers get the training they need. We can tailor our classes to the different unit's requests so that the students get all of the information in the timeframe that their unit has requested."
Stewart and his staff are more than willing to talk with units who would like to know more about the facility. He will provide details about how critical skills taught at the site will improve medics' abilities while deployed and while at home station.
On site, some rooms have manikins with torn clothes lying on floor. Their chests move up and down as if breathing. One Soldier lost a leg, and blood comes from the open wound. Another Soldier has blood spilling from his mouth. Medics run around shouting and trying to stabilize their patients.
To make it more realistic, a life-size picture taken of an Afghanistan setting covers the walls as a background. Smoke blows around the dark room, making it hard to see. To give the room a realistic smell, facility personnel burn hair during the training exercise.
"The purpose of the training center is to recreate the sights, sounds, situations and even smells of the combat medical environment so that our doctors, physician assistants, medics and nonmedical Soldiers may learn life-saving interventions in order to keep our Soldiers alive on today's battlefields," Stewart added. "The computer-driven manikins can breathe, bleed, blink and even talk to give the medic the feedback needed to manage treatment."
Above the action sits a control booth, where personnel have control over the "blood," smoke, temperature, lights, sounds, breathing and other environmental stressors. Computers monitor patients and the treatment medics administer to them. When the exercise is over, reports and recordings tell whether medics treated the injuries correctly.
Manikins' conditions improve if they are properly treated, and they die if they do not receive proper care, according to Stewart.
One of the courses offered at the site is the Mountain Medic Course. This is the MSTC's signature course; it offers 72 hours of continuing medical education. They focus on "remote medic skills," or the skills needed to treat and sustain casualties at forward patrol bases away from direct medical oversight. Dental emergencies; wound management; surgical skills; Foley catheterization; and orthopedics are just a few of the Mountain Medic course offerings.
Other rooms in the facility that house manikins includes pediatric and pregnant manikins, where students practice such things as intubations, tracheotomies, delivering babies, inserting catheters and applying splints.
They have a low-light IV lab, and students practice IV insertion in the back of moving vehicles to help simulate a combat environment.
"My favorite part of the MSTC has to be all of the realism of each and every course I attend," said Spc. Julie Anne Jeffers, a medic from 10th Mountain Division (LI). "Each time I return to one of the different courses, I learn something new or how to do something better."
In all, the center contains four classrooms and four patient simulation testing rooms. The 100-acre training area is composed of numerous obstacles and platforms that allow for a myriad of training scenarios. The site is composed of an Obstacle Course, Afghan Village, Ultimate Training Munitions stress shoot range, Combat Logistics Patrol Lane, Mission on Urban Terrain site and Combat Trauma Training Lab. As a certified Fort Drum Helicopter Landing Zone or HLZ, the site frequently is used for hot load training and aviation scenario integration.
Off-site training includes an emergency room rotation. The Office of the Division Surgeon and the State University of New York Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse have a detailed agreement allowing use of the Emergency Department. This is an observational rotation; however, they experience critical care for numerous trauma patients, and work with the Burn Ward medical staff to visualize post burn care.
The MSTC staff has great pride in their joint operations capabilities with the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. They also enjoy a robust training relationship with the National Guard and the Army Reserves.
"Everyone who attends any of the classes at the Fort Drum Medical Training Simulation Center will learn how to be a better medical provider, whatever the case may be," added Spc. Komal Bhullar, a medic from 10th Mountain Division (LI). "I have learned so many things from the courses I have taken. I have learned how to stitch wounds, evacuate wounded Soldiers, and treat all different types of wounds found on and off of the battlefield. If you would like to better your medical skills, the MSTC is the place to achieve these skills."