By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn, 2nd Brigade Combat Team PAO NCOICFebruary 26, 2015
FORT POLK, La. -- Pfc. Devon Moore has a look of intense concentration on his face as he supports a patient's head between his steady hands. He has already checked the airway. For now, breathing is under control. His trauma team stops the bleeding from the remnants of an amputated left arm and right leg with tourniquets while constantly observing vital signs. Within minutes, Moore's calm, unwavering voice directs his two team members to sweep for additional wounds and administer medication.
One by one, as the team continues to swiftly examine the body, accompanying injuries reveal themselves: an open chest laceration, groin bleeding and an exit wound.
The team systematically applies appropriate bandages to the damaged torso. Breathing becomes uneven after an occlusive dressing is hastily applied to the exit wound on the back of the patient. Without hesitation, a decompression needle is pierced through the skin to relieve pressure. Breathing is restored.
Moore and his team are combat medics assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. They are undergoing intense medical intervention exercises at Joint Readiness Training Center here, where each Soldier in the platoon will be required to treat notional patients with almost any conceivable injury, every day.
"This training helps us be better medics," Moore explained. "We train all day long; it's from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. It's constant; you don't get the breaks that you do when we are back at (Fort Drum). Out here, you get the real-world experience. You do your job all day long."
In 2009, Moore lost his father in a car accident when a drunk driver hit him. Emergency crews were called to the scene where a medical evacuation team administered treatment.
The painful experience is what led him to become an Army combat medic.
"I lost my father to a drunk driver my freshman year of college," he recounted. "A group of flight medics worked on him, and unfortunately they did not save his life. That inspired me to be the guy who can save lives."
In the notional scenario, Moore was the head man. In that role, he had the responsibility of how the patient was treated, what medications and fluids were administered, and what life-saving inter-vention measures were taken. He also maintained the airway as he directed his team through a successful treatment with minor mistakes.
"JRTC gives us as close to real-life experience of what it may be like if we were to deploy and we were to get actual casualties coming in," said Pvt. Jared Morin, who had quickly applied the tourniquet to the right leg of the notional casualty. "It may not be the exact stressors we would get, but they definitely do try to stress us as much as they possibly can so that we can figure out how to deal with it and still work properly and maintain our composure."
As the young, inexperienced medics perform their scenarios, seasoned combat medic veterans stand by to offer guidance.
"The noncommissioned officers here have either all been to Afghanistan or Iraq, so we know what we are doing," explained Sgt. Sean Kelly, a treatment NCO and head man for the trauma table. "We start slow, especially with our new guys. We have crawl, walk-through and talk-through phases.
"Then we pump up the intensity a lot; we put a lot of stress on them and throw some crazy injuries at them. We try to get in their heads a little bit so when they actually see the real injury, it's easy; they do not get the tunnel vision. That's what we try to do here," Kelly added.
After each scenario is complete, an after-action review is conducted. All of the medics within the platoon sit in a circle and face each other to discuss the sequence of events and treatment administered for the corresponding injuries.
The new and inexperienced medics explain their course of action step by step, and the NCOs critique their findings to make recommendations or offer advice.
"With an AAR we get the outside view of what we are actually doing. When you are in the heat of the moment, you may think you are doing everything you can and doing it right," said Morin, who joined the platoon six months ago. "When we do the AAR, we get the little fine things that we can work on and some of the things that we did not notice or did not pick up on. We can fine tune our skills and help each other out."
Leaders use the AAR process to help themselves become better evaluators and to strengthen the communication between subordinate and supervisor.
"As an NCO, it helps us evaluate and helps our ability to talk to them," Kelly said. "Letting them know we are not just here to crush them; we are here to tell them how they are doing good as well. Everyone needs to have that. You don't need to pick out the negative (all of the time). People need to be praised."
Patients are not all actors reading their symptoms from a card. The medics also hone their field craft when their fellow Wolverines come to their aid station with real injuries and illnesses. A physician assistant and medical doctor are assigned to the battalion to provide care to all the troopers in 1-89 Cavalry. The combat medics are right beside them learning.
Moore started working immediately after he arrived at JRTC. Training on notional casualties is invaluable, but a real, live patient is vital to practice rapport and understanding of historical symptoms and feelings.
"If someone gets hurt training, they come in and we take care of them," said Moore, who became a Hellcat medic three months ago. "When we get a real-world casualty versus a simulated casualty, there are more options. We get a lot more feedback from the injured or sick person instead of something read from a card."
It takes a lot of resiliency to be an Army combat medic. There are occasions when things will not work out in their favor. Injuries are too severe or the casualty-to-medic ratio is out of balance. Remaining calm is key. If you cannot handle stress under pressure, you cannot do the job.
"I think it takes a fair amount of knowledge (to be a medic). You've got to have some sort of smarts and be able to stay calm in stressful situations," Morin emphasized. "You can have your best friend lying there, and you need to take a step back and focus on what you need to do. Put your emotions aside and help the patient."
Moore and Morin listen intently to the assessment their NCOs give them during the AAR. Lives depend on their actions and quick thinking. Any misstep or miscalculation can spell disaster for either patient or medic. Both Soldiers agree they are receiving phenomenal training at JRTC.
"I love this type of training, because it actually gives you hands-on (practice) doing what you need to be doing. It stresses you, and it tests your skills and tests your knowledge and tests your reaction in stressful situations," Morin said excitedly with a grin.
The pure enthusiasm is not because these two Soldiers are new to the Army or because they are wide-eyed privates. The fervor and interest resonates through the platoon during these intense situational awareness exercises.
"They are awesome," Kelly said about the two new troops. "They are awesome, spot on. (They are) very good with their interventions and very calm under pressure."
"I do not want to brag, but I feel that at 1-89 (Cavalry), we are the best medics of all of 10th Mountain. We train constantly. We are combat medics, we take it very seriously," Kelly continued. "With all of our new guys, we want to mold them so they become NCOs. I won't be here forever. I want them to be the same for their younger Soldiers."
Currently, Moore is on an evacuation team in which he cares for patients in transport. He recalls the medic motto he learned while attending medic advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
"'We serve to heal, but it's an honor to serve.' That is something I kind of live by, and it's an honor being able to serve with my fellow comrades."