Soldiers at Fort Carson, Colorado, made history this month by becoming the first active duty unit to set up and test the field hospital -- Army Medicine's modernized, modular update to the well-known Combat Support Hospital.
The group was assigned to the previously known 10th CSH, which became the Army's first unit to convert to the field hospital design in June 2017. In a move to make battlefield care more expeditionary, the conversion reconfigured the 248-bed 10th CSH into a smaller, more modular 32-bed field hospital with the capability of three additional augmentation detachments including a 24-bed surgical detachment, a 32-bed medical detachment, and a 60-bed Intermediate Care Ward detachment.
The newly established 10th FH and the augmentation detachments now operate under the authority of the 627th Hospital Center. Together, they set up and tested the new field hospital design, gathering valuable lessons learned for the rest of the force.
"Readiness and modernization are two of the Army Chief of Staff's top priorities, and our unit has the privilege of directly contributing to both," said 627th Hospital Center Commander Col. Mark Stevens. "What we are doing here at Fort Carson will not only prepare our team for upcoming deployments but will also set the conditions for success across the Army by providing a tested and validated Role III capability for deployment anywhere in the world for the full spectrum of unified land operations."
At Role III, the patient is treated in a medical treatment facility staffed and equipped to provide care to all categories of patients, including resuscitation, initial wound surgery, damage control surgery and postoperative treatment. Stevens said the exercise has provided the teams with the opportunity to assess individual Soldier readiness and resiliency, as well as medical maintenance readiness. The team executed multi-echelon training, explained Stevens, which means not only did the field hospital team get individual and collective training but also they used the event to concurrently train the new hospital center mission command staff on essential systems, processes and procedures.
"This is not your typical field training exercise," said 10th Field Hospital Commander Lt. Col. Sabrina Thweatt. "During the first week, it took us longer than we anticipated to set up everything. When I circulated through, checking on Soldiers, I asked everyone how it was going and the answer I got was 'slow.' So I reminded the Soldiers that this is the first time we or anyone else has set up the field hospital, and that we were testing the design not only for our own unit but also for the entire Army. We must be deliberate and take our time to document deficiencies, lessons learned and best practices."
During the field hospital exercise, members from U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency and the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, both subordinate organizations of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, worked with unit Soldiers and leaders to answer questions and mitigate challenges.
"We want units to know that we are here to support them and make sure they are confident with the medical materiel USAMMA fields to them," said Rufus Pruitt, USAMMA's Western/Pacific Regional manager of the Force Sustainment Directorate.
Pruitt has become a familiar face to the 627th Hospital Center and field hospital teams, as he and USAMMA regional Medical Liaison Officer Mike Mc Hale took part in the unit conversion in June.
"Our goal with taking part in this first field hospital exercise was to see any issues first hand. On paper, the concept looks one way. But when you actually set up equipment, situations can occur that create challenges," explained USAMMDA Product Manager Jaime Lee. "By seeing them in person, we can determine how to mitigate any challenges and improve the training plan or adjust the fielding plan."
Additionally, Lee explained some immediate lessons learned with the newly fielded TEMPER Air Supported shelters. The shelters are expected to make the deployment of the new field hospital easier since they are 50 percent lighter and go up 50 percent faster than the older tents. However, Lee said Soldiers have noted that during the cleaning process, the bottoms of the shelter floors get scuffed and scratched when they are placed on a hard surface.
"It quickly became apparent that providing low-cost tarps to place beneath the tent floors would preserve the life of the TEMPER Air Supported shelters," Lee said.
Lee also said the reconfiguration of water/waste water systems and power distribution has been challenging.
"We needed a tension knot for the thermal liners in order to hold power cables off the floor," said Lee. "We trained the 10th FH Soldiers on this procedure and took some pictures for a 'how to' for other units."
The field hospital exercise also highlighted new capabilities offered by the field hospital design, such as the option of microbiology on the battlefield -- an important medical capability to diagnose potentially dangerous infectious diseases.
"If a patient has an infection in a field hospital, we need to make sure we can identify it," explained Spc. Christopher Landers. "If we can diagnose the patient here before they get evacuated to a higher level of care, it will give the providers a better idea of what to expect and, ultimately, a better road to recovering for the patient."
Over the next five years, the Army plans to convert the rest of the active duty CSHs, as well as Army Reserve hospitals that are part of the Medical Materiel Readiness Program and Army Prepositioned Stocks. Thweatt's advice to other units as they go through the conversion from a CSH to a field hospital is to remain flexible and patient.
"Remember, a field hospital is not a CSH," said Thweatt. "You have to get creative in making adjustments--but not at the expense of the design concept. As long as future units stay focused on improving the design in ways that benefit the Warfighter, rather than trying to make it 'perfect' or comparing it to the legacy CSH, all will be well. The preparation process is long and some days were frustrating. But now that we're in the field and actually seeing all the plans come to fruition -- watching the Soldiers take ownership with sweat dripping and still motivated -- makes it all worth it."
"This is the Army. This is what we do. To be a part of this is exciting," added Thweatt. "My boots are dusty, and they haven't been dusty in a while."