By Bill SnethenFebruary 14, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Triaging mass casualties, tracking lab results and reestablishing network connectivity occurs with regularity in deployed treatment facilities. Each activity requires immense coordination. Active duty medical units train daily, fine-tuning their efforts as a team. Reservists prepare in small groups one weekend every month leading up to their deployment date.
Helping to prepare Reservists for theater is the 191st Training Support Brigade, or TSB. The unit readies 37 Reserve medical units every year for the hardships and steep learning curves of theater. Field training exercises offer essential hands-on training with the same equipment that they will use in the combat zone.
Unlike active duty personnel, Reservists typically have little time to master the computer system they must use on the battlefield to record, track and share medical information, the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4).
The flow of medical information supports operations on the ground, lends to greater situational awareness and helps servicemembers receive complete, electronic medical histories.
In November, members of the 256th Combat Support Hospital, a Reserve unit, collectively trained together for the first time at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Utilizing MC4 systems, 200 reservists readied for their split-based mission during a four-day field exercise. Planned simulations showcased the need for more out-of-classroom training.
"We replicate everything a medical unit will see in theater," said Lt. Col. Paris Um, deputy exercise director for the 191st TSB. "This is a good environment for unit commanders to see how the personnel respond and perform to real-world situations. We set up units for success when they go downrange."
The exercise emulated the battlefield, operating around the clock. Ambulances delivered mass casualties with severe burns and shrapnel wounds. Actors portrayed Iraqi citizens seeking medical attention for infants. The Reservists captured all patient data in MC4 systems, which remained operational during an unscheduled communications outage.
"We're dealing with real-world conditions and problems," said Sgt. Timothy Klaus, supporting the signal office for the 256th Combat Support Hospital. "We'll be doing the same level of support when we deploy. If we arrived in theater without this experience, the hospital could be dead in the water."
According to the Learning Pyramid developed by National Training Laboratories, people retain new information more effectively through active learning. The model illustrates hands-on experience results in 75 percent training retention versus 30 percent typically achieved by classroom demonstration. The MC4 program re-focused its training curriculum in 2010, placing greater emphasis on field exercises for deploying units. This year MC4 supported 22 exercises worldwide.
Many members of the 191st TSB augmented MC4-led instruction, drawing upon their individual experiences with MC4 in theater.
"I deployed as a medic with the 41st Brigade Combat Team in 2009," said Sgt. Richard Ramirez, member of the 191st TSB. "When I talk with users, I stress the importance of electronically charting patient data right away. The digital notes benefit the patients, the medical teams and the higher command."
Because of their experience with the MC4 system, the 191st TSB could critique every aspect of the treatment facility's implementation of MC4. They stressed the importance of accurately tracking patients throughout the facility, prioritizing the patient flow and digitally monitoring and restocking supply shelves. The exercise helps the 256th Combat Support Hospital prepare for and avoid pitfalls downrange.
"The on-site training has been golden," said Lt. Col. Diane Adloff, who will command one of the treatment facilities for the 256th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq. "It gives us time to practice for the realities of the battlefield. Everyone needs to understand our requirements the moment when we hit the ground."