WIESBADEN, Germany - As smoke, moans and the sounds of gunfire pour out of a hangar door on Clay Kaserne July 28, they're accompanied by teams of German Soldiers and secret service police officers anxiously engaged in rescuing injured comrades.
The German military reserve and civilian first responders were trainees at the Viper Pit on Clay Kaserne -- a unique training facility aimed at providing tactical field care training under the stresses of actual combat situations "They have to evacuate all six patients and then prep them for evacuation," said Staff Sgt. John Lacroix, medical plans sergeant for the 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion. "From there they have to get them to a landing zone for a medical evacuation."
While providing critical lifesaving care in the cramped chaos of a dimly-lit, blood-soaked, smoke-filled room tested their ability to provide proper care and maintain cool heads under fire, transporting their "wounded" colleagues to a safe landing zone gave them one more taste of what they might face in an actual combat or hostage rescue situation.
"Tactically it's up to the teams to reconnoiter the area and to get them to a safe landing zone," said Lacroix.
What the teams didn't know was that the Viper Pit trainers had "snipers" (using Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System pistols) and improvised explosive devices in the area of one landing zone. As the teams made their way around the Clay Kaserne motor pool, checking for opposing forces and covering one another as they moved from cover to cover, the trainers set off the simulated IEDs and incapacitated several of the participants by striking their MILES sensors. The remaining members of the team were forced to seek cover, provide care to those injured during the rescue attempt and find an alternative medical evacuation site.
Eventually, as the teams made their way through the firing zone arriving at the "safe" landing zone, they completed the exercise and compared after-action notes with one another and the trainers.
"First of all, it's important for our Soldiers to be trained before they deploy," said Bundeswehr Col. Joachim Sanden, director of the Center of Expertise for Reserve Affairs, who was on hand to observe the training. "This is an excellent opportunity -- for them to experience the stress of combat while focusing on what's important and saving lives. … We recognize that we may not have similar training facilities in our Armed Forces."
Sanden explained that while the Bundeswehr does conduct pre-deployment medical training, the Viper Pit provides a more realistic environment. "When you are in combat you never know when you will need more expertise. … We also learned that the training facility is moveable without a huge cost. That might be something we would look at for the future … to create a similar facility for German forces.
"It's important for the morale of the troops that you have someone in the unit to save lives in an emergency situation," Sanden said, adding that partnership is another important element of training together.
As Germany has transitioned to an all-volunteer force, it's equally vital that members of the Bundeswehr are knowledgeable to share their experiences with the public at large. "That's also one of the intents. Due to the fact that we suspended conscription, we need more people to talk about security and the need for a trained military -- what the Army does," said Sanden.
Following an iteration of the training scenario, Lacroix discussed things the Soldiers did well and areas that could be improved.
"I was mainly focused on the medical area, and I think they did well at that," he said, pointing out that repeated exposure to the stresses of lifesaving under fire can only improve an individual's ability to react quickly and efficiently.
"For me personally as a German Soldier and officer in the reserves, and also as a volunteer firefighter … I think this is some of the best training ever," said German 1st Lt. Markus Mueller, praising the "high quality training" and friendships made through the process. Mueller added that he has recommended the training to his fellow Soldiers.
"Personally, I think the training and practice is better than any theory," Mueller said, adding that he was looking forward to future partnership activities, including helping American Soldiers earn the German Sports Badge.
Bundeswehr Reserve 1st Lt. Oliver Oswald echoed Mueller's feedback, explaining that while German first responders do receive a combination of civil and military first response training, the Viper Pit provides a unique training environment.
As the 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion completes its move from Wiesbaden to Baumholder, Lacroix said, the Wiesbaden Training Support Center and Health Clinic are stepping in to take over the training facility.
"We're going to rebuild and improve the Viper Pit, with help from the TSC," Lacroix said.
"With TSAE (the Training Support Activity Europe), TSC Wiesbaden and the Wiesbaden Medical Clinic we have combined forces to keep the Viper Pit alive in Wiesbaden," said Ron Clendenen, chief of the Wiesbaden Training Support Center. "We can now provide combat lifesaver and advanced medic training for all the tenant units within the Wiesbaden military community. Currently the medical staff can train up to 40 students per training event. Overall, this will free up the Wiesbaden units from conducting multiple/simultaneous CLS training classes by allowing them to send Soldiers to a consolidated class for certification."
Clendenen added that the TSC is working with the garrison's Directorate of Public Works to renovate the facility with new paint, electrical outlets and other features to create a "state-of-the-art facility."
"We provide all the medical training aids such as mannequins, litters, fog machines, strobe lights and simulated automatic weapons fire," he said, adding, "We also made it convenient for units to schedule the facility by adding it to the Range Facility Management Support System."
By offering home station training, Soldiers are able to perform their warrior skills and battle drills in one place, Clendenen said, which makes the training truly unique.
For more information on the Viper Pit email Staff Sgt. Lacroix at john.lacroix@us.army.mil or call Ron Clendenen at mil 337-5370. (See www.army.mil/article/80731/Viper_Pit_puts_combat_lifesavers_to_the_test/ for an earlier story this year on the Army home page).