Eight Soldiers sit tightly packed into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, their gear just as tightly packed onto small utility vehicles onboard. The drone of the turbines, deafening, gradually transforms into a deep thumping as the aircraft leaves the pad and soars into the sky.
The men and women aboard the aircraft are members of the Army Reserve's 912th Forward Surgical Team and are training for a specialized medical response mission in the near future.
"Our mission is to provide far forward surgical support to combat Soldiers on the ground," said Staff Sgt. Sean Costigan, emergency room noncommissioned officer in charge for the 912th FST. "Our goal is to be able to provide support to units operating outside of the 'golden hour.'"
The 'golden hour' concept is that a typical medical team located on a military base is capable of providing support to the wounded within 60 minutes or 50 miles. The 912th FST team, however, will be living and working remotely, and their skills will bridge the gap for wounded troops who could not otherwise reach critical care within the critical golden hour.
"Typically, we would be co-located with a battalion aid station," said Capt. Peter Lancette, chief nurse for the FST and a native of Charleton, Massachusetts. "Working as a far-forward FST in this capacity greatly decreases mortality rates for Soldiers on the ground."
During the 912th's training day at Fort Hood, two teams practiced loading and unloading their surgical equipment from the helicopter. After the teams exited the aircraft, they rushed to a nearby tent, set up a mock operating room, and began taking role-player patients.
"The focus of the training today was really centered on building team cohesiveness and sharpening needed skills," Lancette said.
As the teams performed critical tasks, they were observed and validated by 120th Infantry Brigade observer coach/trainers, who watched closely and provided feedback along the way.
"Recent conflict has created a necessity for these forward surgical teams," said Capt. Robert Blome, an OC/T with the 120th's Medical Training Task Force. "What we provide to them is a sense of realism and focus on perfecting small details that could slow them down in a real-world situation."
Throughout the day, OC/Ts adjusted the training to keep tasks in line with the stated needs of the unit and what its leadership felt would be of greatest benefit.
"The training provided to us here has been top-notch and was really tailored to our specific needs," Costigan said. "Using the helicopter and the Gators and being able to apply these things to our training has been extremely valuable for us."