ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Soldiers from the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, a subordinate unit of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, completed their culminating training event at Lauderick Creek Training Area near Aberdeen Proving Ground on Aug. 17.
The purpose of the exercise is to practice on mission critical tasks in order to increase their deployment readiness. Some of these tasks were tactical movement, react to enemy fire, casualty care, detection of chemical, biological, and radiological threats, and shipment of theater-validated samples to specific U.S. labs.
"This is very important," said Capt. Blair Dancy, 1st AML's chemical threat assessment chief. "There is only one area medical laboratory in the entire U.S. Army inventory, and thus, it is paramount for us to maintain our readiness and our capability to deploy at a moment's notice to whatever crisis emerges."
The 1st AML has been called upon to support various missions in the U.S. and abroad as they did for Operation Unified Assistance in West Africa during the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
According to Col. Clint Murray, commander 1st AML, there are key aspects that the Army considers vital for success. They include manning, supplies, training, maintenance and leader development.
"To be fully successful in these areas, units have to be properly educated, properly trained and provided experiences," said Murray. "Culminating training events like the 1st AML did at Lauderick Creek allows linking the organic and PROFIS (Professional Filler System) personnel together to undergo the needed education, training and experiences with their people, equipment, and supplies to fully train."
He also said the CTE allows the unit to learn how to maintain their people, equipment and supplies. That leader development through constructing critical thinking and sound judgment is what ensures the unit is successful in our constantly changing environments.
"The CTE is the perfect setting for this to occur as it allows external evaluators to assess the unit's ability to be ready for the operational environment," added Murray.
Along with the military equipment which includes vehicles, tents, tools and weapons, they also deploy bulky lab equipment such as biosafety cabinets, glove boxes and microorganism hardware and software testing systems. Personal protection equipment is part of their equipment as well.
According to Sgt. Kierstin Pontius, a medical laboratory specialist, if they receive a suspicious sample, and don't know what the threat is, they suit up in full coveralls with respiratory systems without any hesitation. She said having confidence in their protective gear makes her job easier.
"The Army trains you to be ready to go into any situation at any time," said Pontius. "We are used to running head first into everything; why would this be any different?"
As part of the CTE, they have a scenario where they receive a high profile sample. It can be anything within the CBRN threat spectrum, the team has to make sure it reaches the lab while preventing any sort of contamination and maintaining proper chain of custody.
And it is not only lab and CBRN aspects, they also hone their skills as Soldiers. While they are doing tests in their respective labs, the team gets hit with random attacks. It can be direct or indirect fire such as mortars. They have to react depending on the situation. Donning their protective gear, taking cover or suppressing fire are some of the tactics they can respond with.
But the threats are not only external to camp. The Occupational and Environmental Health Assessment Team, a section within the 1st AML, collects water and soil samples from around the camp to ensure all service members are safe.
"Our job is to make sure any area we go in is safe for troops," said Sgt. Glenn Davis, a veterinary food inspection specialists with the team.
According to a 2016 report from the Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S. - "the 1st AML can successfully conduct split-based operations in an outbreak setting, and this capability can be utilized in future operations. The performance of the 1st AML during the Ebola outbreak highlights the value of this asset, and the need to continue its evolution to support U.S. military operations."