FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 11, 2012) -- Cadre and students in the Heavy Vehicle Recovery Course recently rehearsed the exchange and loading of a casualty with first responders who came by air and ground.

The medevac drill was staged for the first time here following the Armor School's move last year from Fort Knox, Ky. But unit officials said this took place on a larger scale as the members of 3rd Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment's Ordnance Training Detachment added some new wrinkles.

The air and ground simulations April 2 at the Sandy Hook Vehicle Recovery Course on Harmony Church were conducted separately. Both began with an instructor's call to 911. Other steps included coordination and linkup with fire and rescue personnel from the Directorate of Emergency Services, early treatment and stabilization at the scene, and maintaining communication while establishing a landing zone for the inbound helicopter.

"It's very important for the cadre to know this," said Sgt. 1st Class James Burt of the battalion's Ground Mobility Division, which manages the 22-day recovery course. "We have taken many steps to mitigate the risk in this course, but anything can happen at any given time. We go up and down hills -- you could have slippery conditions with rain or ice. A cable could snap.

"We're towing 70-ton vehicles here. One can get away from you very quick."

The exercise included two cadre members and more than half a dozen Soldiers attending the course. Under the scenario, a student "fell" off the top of an M-88 armored recovery vehicle and impaled himself on a screwdriver. He was unconscious and bleeding from the chest and head.

Staff Sgt. David Stapleton, the instructor at Sandy Hook, made the E911 calls.

"We guide the air medevac team in, give them our location and make sure the landing zone is clear," he said. "It's definitely a good learning experience. You have to face it without fear, so it doesn't become a problem if this does become a real-world request in the future."

Lt. Col. William Nuckols, commander of 3-81 Armor, said the likelihood of a serious accident like this occurring is very low -- given the safety measures in place -- but it's incumbent upon Ground Mobility Division officials to plan for any emergency.

"It's essential for our cadre because they'll be the ones on the ground executing this medevac," he said. "They have to fully understand the procedures and know exactly what to do. Two minutes can be the difference between life or death."

Calling 911 was a new facet in the training session, Burt said. At Fort Knox, instructors simply used the vehicle's radio to alert range control personnel, who would then dispatch a helicopter or ambulance.

"When it comes to treating a casualty and getting them off the scene, the quicker the better," he said. "It's very important to know this out in the force. There's a lot of sand out in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could take a while before somebody reaches you."

Burt said 10 classes will come through Harmony Church by the end of fiscal 2012. The Heavy Vehicle Recovery Course also is taught at Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Lee, Va.

Cable snaps or vehicle rollovers are among the daily hazards cadre and students must be aware of at all times, Stapleton said.

"Towing can be dangerous if you drop your guard or get lackadaisical," he said. "Part of our course is to teach fundamentals. We teach them how to use the equipment without exceeding the limitations."

Nuckols said up to a third of cadre members rotate out every six months, so it's crucial they know how to react during a contingency. The battalion hopes to carry out this casualty-evacuation exercise on a quarterly basis.