CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. -- At the end of a weathered gravel road stands a squadron aid station. Inside the tent covered in cameo netting, field medics in body armor and Advance Combat Helmets sit among the neatly stocked medical supplies. A few idle conversations begin only to dissipate under the pressure of stressful anticipation. All too soon the silence in the training area is shattered. An explosion erupts in the distance, but it's no match for the scream that follows.
"Medic!" The deafening cry rings out.
The Iowa Army National Guard (IANG) Soldiers know it's time to go to work, running toward the chaotic scene in squad formation. After achieving fire superiority the medics carry casualties back for triage. A physician calmly watches as a team of medics work.
"All right, let's bring in the first patient," Maj. Andrea Hickman calls out with a confident smile.
Hickman, a family medicine physician with the Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Battalion, 113th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, IANG. She's currently treating real-world casualties and engages in-field training with combat medic specialists during an eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) rotation at Camp Ripley, Minnesota.
XCTC training tests, not just the brigade combat team itself, but also the quality of training of the real-life support elements also participating in the exercise such as medical support units.
It's very exciting to put those medical skills to use and learn something different, said Hickman. "I've spent over 12 years in the military. Always being able to contribute to something much bigger than yourself, is why you join in the first place."
During XCTC, Hickman and the team of medics at the squadron aid station receive a variety of injured and sick Soldiers from surrounding line units. When the team isn't busy with patients, they enhance their skills in medical exercises with simulated casualties ranging from mass casualty (MASCAL) training to patient hand-off scenarios.
Sometimes when an aid station jumps forward only field medics can be sent, said Sgt. Travis Postma, a combat medic specialist with HHT 1-113th Cav. On this particular jump, the aid station was able to have a physician and a physician assistant. It helps the standard of treatment out in the field, he said.
Hickman's medical career began at Des Moines University, Osteopathic School of Medicine. She commissioned in the Air Force shortly after graduating with a doctorate of osteopathy. Hickman spent 8 years on active duty and deployed twice. After two years in the Air National Guard, she decided to make a change in her military career in 2016.
"I met with a specialist recruiter for the Army National Guard," Hickman said. "I asked some questions, and it felt like a better fit coming off of active duty."
When Hickman is not in uniform, she works as a primary healthcare provider at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in Des Moines with Soldiers and veterans of all ages. The VA serves as a community for veterans with shared experiences, receiving treatment and the resources they need.
"That's a huge part of what the military brings to the table," Hickman said. "Like-minded people who share the same experiences. Working at the VA brings those people together and benefits their overall mental and physical health."