By Sgt. Mark CloutierOctober 23, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Led by their commander, Col. Ronald Krogh, the 47th Combat Support Hospital set up an 84-bed hospital in just 72 hours during a field training exercise at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Oct. 15-19. The big deal? The combat hospital was made up of enough interconnected tents and support elements to demand a five-acre footprint - the entire layout could only be fully seen from the air.
Though Army CSHs have the ability to set up these large field hospitals, for a while, they've not had the luxury of training time to do it.
"Due to the Army's combat deployment cycle, CSHs across the Army haven't set up a full 84-bed field combat hospital since Operation Enduring Freedom began," said Krogh. "The 47th has been year on, year off, so during their year off, time has been best utilized for re-setting and preparing for the next deployment. They've not had to set one of these up in combat since the war began, because each time the CSH landed in Iraq they'd be covering down on facilities that had already been set up."
According to Krogh, there have been a few recent motivating factors, which have provided the catalyst for this specific FTX.
"As I Corps shifts focus toward the Pacific Rim, we want to make sure that we can support any Pacific Rim exercises with our tactical, organic, assigned capabilities - to demonstrate some of the things that 62nd Medical Brigade and the 47th CSH have to offer," said Krogh. "We want to be prepared as their CSH.
"In June, we fielded a new 84-bed hospital, so all of the medical equipment, to include some of the tents, is brand new. So of course, we needed to do a functions check - take it out and set it up. We've been able to set pieces of it up in the motor pool, but to set it all up we needed this large five-acre area where we can stake it and line it up so that it would come out right. Our prime objective was to do all of this to make sure everything worked, and that everybody knew how to operate their portion of the new equipment."
Even from the beginning, the size of the project was daunting.
"The construction of an 84-bed hospital is no small task," said Maj. Laura Johnson, 47th CSH acting executive officer. "To get the area staked properly so that all of those tent corners fit together exactly perfect, required a mobile training team from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to come out and teach us how to do the staking; it's a perishable skill, and we had nobody who could do it."
Krogh was cautiously optimistic about being able to set the entire hospital up in the doctrine-dictated 72 hours, as they were not operating with all of their assigned strength. Still, he said, he thought the soldiers had done an incredible job through rain and high winds with a very inexperienced crew. he was fully confident that the medical staff knew their jobs.
For anyone who's ever done any amount of family camping, this exercise had very little, if any, resemblance to dad, mom and the kids pitching a four-person tent next to a quiet fishing hole - except that the synergy and the camaraderie was, "family-like," according to Master Sgt. Randy Scott, medic and chief ward master for B Company, 47th CSH.
"In any military training exercise, anyone can find many ways to improve the foxhole, and that's what this exercise was for," said Scott. "But we're improving as we go - leaps and bounds, and these soldiers are amazing in what they have been able to accomplish.
"By doctrine, we should have 128-180 soldiers out here and only 72 hours to get this set up, but we've done it with 68 soldiers - so there is no way that I can complain."
"We got through it by staying focused on the fundamentals," said Capt. Angela Carter, 47th CSH adjutant. "The chance to set up a CSH of this magnitude was a great opportunity, as most of our soldiers have never done this before."
For a project of this size, much support was required of outside elements for it to be successful.
"A combat support hospital needs a lot of help setting up," said Krogh. "We had support from the 593rd Sustainment Brigade, who helped us by bringing our containers out and placing them for us. Also, quartermasters set up the shower and laundry units, and continued to bring water to the site. A number of 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion's units were with us: vets, ambulance, preventive medicine, and optometrist. We also had air support from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade."
After everything had been set up and tested, it was time for actual medical training to commence. There were simulated patient exercises, where observer-controllers watched on to grade each of the medical performances. There were scenarios, which required patients to be air-evacuated. On the final day, medical staff were able to perform three, live, minor surgeries.
"Though it was a training event, we still had to operate under the same patient care standards that are required at Madigan Healthcare System - and at that point everyone was real serious about what they're doing," said Krogh.
When all was done, satisfaction seemed to be the general feeling in the air.
"We have to be ready to deploy with all of our organic equipment - I think we've shown that here," said Krogh. "But we're going to get even better at this. We take pride in being America's CSH, and by doing this a couple more times we will increase our proficiency.
"We spent a lot of time building the city this time; increasingly, we'll get better and faster. We plan on doing this at regular intervals to keep a sustained base of training so that we can deploy, set up and provide the healthcare that we need to."