NORTH FORT HOOD, Texas -- A female Soldier sits on a bench along the inside of a green Army ambulance. Even though it's mid-day, it is almost pitch black in the confined space of the ambulance.
Light from a small window between the front seat and the trunk silhouettes her enough to make out short blond hair framing her round face. She is wearing an Army combat helmet, eye protection, and has a large, red emergency response bag at her side.
Staff Sgt. Becky Schneider, with the Kentucky National Guard's 1163rd Area Support Medical Company, and native of Frankfort, Kentucky, has been a combat medic for over seven years.
She calls up to the driver, a fellow medic, through the small window. They go back and forth, discussing possible injuries and best practices before the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop. The back door opens and she is on the ground and assessing the scene in only seconds.
Schneider and her team member, Sgt. Duncan Wooster, also a combat medic with the 1163rd ASMC, were participating in a pre-mobilization training exercise here, May 30, in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The team received its order: load into the ambulances and treat role players as if they were real-world casualties.
"It's hectic and it's crazy and you kind of come out at the end of it like, 'I just forgot to breath for 40 minutes,'" said Schneider.
After assessing the scene, Schneider quickly approaches a role player on the ground with simulated burns and possible shrapnel wounds, surrounded by tall grass and a coiled metal fence. Wooster rushes to another role player with similar injuries underneath an observation tower. They call back up to address additional casualties.
"It's problem solving," explained Schneider. "At the end of the day, you're helping people and that's what I really like to do. I like the puzzle of, 'How do I put this back together again?'"
The scene is chaotic and loud. Several role players surround the medics, attempting to use their medical gear and bombarding them with questions.
Backup arrives and the casualties are moved onto stretchers and into the ambulances. Schneider jumps back into the ambulance next to her patients. As they speed back to the emergency response treatment area, she continues to assess and care for the two Soldiers on either side of her, pulling various medical gear from the many pockets of her bag and verbalizing each action.
Moments later, the ambulance stops: end exercise. She removes her helmet to reveal hair drenched in sweat. Once deployed, this scenario would only make up one hour of her 24-hour shift.
"The training itself had very realistic patients, very realistic situations," Schneider said. "It gives me a very real understanding of, 'OK, in a 24-hour shift what am I going to have to do? How can I better take care of my people?'"
Her face looks tired and she allows her shoulders to sink a little as she listens to feedback from the observer coach/trainer regarding her team's actions in the day's exercise. Overall, her team did well and the event was a success.
"You're constantly evolving, constantly learning, trying to build on every single run you make," said Schneider. "You're always trying to get just a little bit better."