CAMP STANLEY, UIJEONGBU, REPUBLIC OF KOREA – Imagine doctors, nurses, and medics in uniforms, boots, helmets, and body armor, flying with cargo boxes in large Army helicopters. Upon landing, those cargo boxes are transformed into an operating table, an emergency room, and an intensive care unit, all ready to provide acute care to wounded warfighters. Soldiers of the 549th Hospital Center (549th HC) put the concept into a realization, proving to be the epitome of the readily deployable medical force.
The 549th HC and Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital (BDAACH) conducted a rotary wing medical evacuation exercise on November 20, 2020. The purpose of the exercise was to validate the capability to rapidly deploy a Forward Resuscitative and Surgical Team (FRST) and a Medical Detachment to exercise damage control surgery treat and evacuate patients to a higher echelon of care at BDAACH.
After U.S. Army Forces Command ordered all combat support hospitals (CSH) to convert to modular and scalable hospital units by 2022, the organization underwent a reconfiguration process from a CSH to a HC with two Field Hospitals (FH) in July 2019; the first of ten units in the active-duty Army. Since then, soldiers of 549th HC have been honing their skills and training with newly fielded equipment to provide a more agile and scalable force in support of the Eight United States Army (Eighth Army).
The exercise highlighted the 135th FRST and 150th Medical Detachment (150th Med. Det.) readiness as the expeditionary medical assets in the theater. Following an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (EDRE), the team was loaded onto a CH-47 with their equipment and headed to Camp Stanley. Upon arrival at the treatment location, the medical teams occupied a building that would become their hospital and prepared to receive patients. The cargo boxes accompanying them were brought into the building, and each cargo box transformed, turning that building into an expeditionary and enhanced Role 2 medical treatment facility, demonstrating the unique mobility of these medical teams.
As they finished establishing the patient care environment, patient role-players began to file in. After triaging the urgent surgical cases, the team performed the eight core damage control surgeries utilizing tissue models. The treatment flows were observed and proctored by peer surgeons, nurses, and certified registered nurse anesthetists to accurately validate the participants’ clinical decisions and performance with the added stress and chaos of the exercise scenario.
Throughout the exercise, 135th FRST implemented high fidelity training models where the current FRST team members evaluated and gave advices to the newer staff, on one-on-one match based on their roles; surgeons to surgeons, emergency physicians to emergency physicians, ER nurses to ER nurses. This made their medical training more effective, as they could share the experiences unique to each role.
While the damage control surgeries and emergency care continued, the sound of helicopters flying nearby grew louder. The 150th Med. Det., built an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) outside the OR and ER, assumed the role of stabilizing patients until helicopter transportation arrived. The rotary aircraft landed and out poured flight medics assigned to 3-2 General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB), ready to provide the en route care and hand-off for trauma patients to BDAACH. The helicopters took off, headed for BDAACH with the trauma patients.
“After the reconfiguration, the forward surgical team reshaped into a nimbler deployable force that could be split into two 10-person resuscitative and surgical elements to enhance combatant commander flexibility,” said Maj. Andrew Oh, Commander of 135th FRST.
“Through this exercise we validated our capability to deliver optimal health service support to the operational force in expeditionary environment and we couldn’t have done it as real as this without our sister units” added Oh.
Multidisciplinary coordination with units outside of the 549th HC amplified the sense of realism during the exercise. Along with Bravo Company and Charlie Company of 3-2 GSAB, elements of the 560th Medical Company Ground Ambulance and 629th Medical Company Area Support of the 168th Multifunctional Medical Battalion provided command and control as well as Role 1 augmentation.
Additionally, 563rd Medical Logistics Company and 95th Blood Detachment participated, filling a logistical role in this exercise. Having all components present and participating in the exercise simulated potential real-world mission and help identify gaps or unforeseen issues for improvement.
BDAACH Emergency Department staff moved swiftly in the same manner. They quickly picked up the patients arriving at the landing zone. After they transferred and unloaded patients from the ambulance, the care smoothly transitioned to triage, providing advanced trauma life support, and coordinating follow-up care with surgical and intensive care or inpatient services.
The 549th HC is the only unit in the U.S. Army that is tasked with a dual mission of providing Armistice Healthcare and “Fight Tonight” readiness in support of Eighth Army.
“We provide our beneficiaries with excellent healthcare during armistice or peace time, but continually train for expeditionary combat healthcare delivery should we transition to hostility” said Col. Huy Q. Luu, Commander of the 549th HC and BDAACH.
“Maintaining the balance of two missions is not an easy task. We leverage every opportunity to not only train our clinically relevant skillset but also to sharpen our warrior mindset, training on soldiering skills, warrior tasks, and to provide lifesaving treatment in the field.”