Providing quality health care in a timely manner can be a challenging, but important task for military health care teams. For the leaders and Soldiers of the 44th Medical Brigade, 531st Hospital Center and subordinate units, providing these lifesaving services was one call away during the United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (EDRE) Medical Exercise 20-01 (MEDEX 20-01), at Sierra Army Depot (SIAD), California, Oct. 17 - Nov. 8, 2019.
When that call came from FORSCOM, they moved rapidly. Bags were packed, equipment was prepared for transport, and more than 600 Soldiers assigned to the 44th Medical Brigade, the 531st Hospital Center, the 586th Field Hospital, the 175th Surgical Detachment, the 41st Medical Detachment and the 431st Intermediate Care Ward Detachment readily deployed in a moment's notice.
"This is one of the first times where we've come to an area that we are not familiar with," said Col. Brandon Pretlow, commander of the 531st Hospital Center. "We've always trained on our own back yard in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We came out here, we set up, and marked our area as we began to assemble all the tents to ensure that is it's aligned to support our mission and execute the necessary support."
The 531st Hospital Center received notice that they would be deploying in less than a week's time. They drew equipment from the Army's Medical Material Readiness Program to replicate contingency Army prepositioned stock needed to establish a field hospital that provided a variety of medical services.
Unlike most EDREs, the Army exercised units subordinate to two corps. The 44th Medical Brigade from XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters, served as the higher command and III Corps Headquarters deployed a field hospital and intermediate care ward to support regularly scheduled National Training Center (NTC) rotation at Fort Irwin, California.
The 44th Medical Brigade represented the higher, adjacent, lower, supported and supporting units (HALSS). As the HALSS, 44th Medical Brigade augmented other organizations and units that would be in a deployed setting including the operational units, the subordinate units and the sustainment units.
"We are actually providing that guidance from the subject matter experts," said Col. Kimberlee Aiello, MEDEX 20-01 senior trainer and commander of the 44th Medical Brigade. "When they have measles injects or patient injects, we are able to respond appropriately as if we were deployed."
Upon arrival at SIAD, the 531st Hospital Center assumed mission command of the 586th Field Hospital from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and 115th Field Hospital from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to test and validate the hospital center concept, in lieu of the combat support hospital, where one hospital center operationally controls multiple field hospitals. The 115th Field Hospital provided exercise medical support for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment during their routine training rotation at NTC. While the 586th Field Hospital provided support from SIAD to the NTC's notional 52nd Infantry Division training at Fort Irwin.
"It demonstrates our ability to use the modular field hospital system commanded by one hospital center commander with a staff that can ensure that they have all the assets they need to be successful to support the Army warfighter and to support Army medicine," said Pretlow.
The 531st Hospital Center is a diverse organization of medical care. Its subordinate units include the 586th Field Hospital, 175th Surgical Detachment, 41st Medical Detachment and 431st Intermediate Care Ward Detachment. The team provides services such as intensive and intermediate medical care, surgery, dental and pharmacy, laboratory services, and others.
As part of the EDRE, the 531st Hospital Center was augmented by approximately 100 medical professionals from 15 installations across the continental United States. The EDRE assessed the unit's ability to deploy and operate as part of an integrated, cohesive team.
"The exercise sustains the skills of not just our providers but the entire medical teams because each specialty, enlisted or officer, are exercising those critical tasks that allow them to be proficient in their jobs," said Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army.
The exercise also tested the medical personnel's ability to expand beyond their individual critical tasks list. The Soldiers conducted cross training because this environment engages teamwork.
In complex austere environments medics and the entire medical team are expected to do more than just their individual tasks. The cross training that occurred during the EDRE allowed Army medicine to provide reinforcement to other sections, whether the medical Soldier's specialty was in the intensive care unit, the operating room, or the pharmacy.
This exercise stressed the units' systems with the large numbers of simulated casualties that moved through their facilities that they were responsible to fully account for, feed, and ensure the 'patients' were provided the proper health care.
"They are ensuring that they are ready, responsive to the needs, and also relevant to whatever comes up; which ensures Army medicine readiness," said Dingle.