Hospital corpsmen from Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River (NHCPR) and its three branch clinics rushed to administer medical care to four severely injured casualties during a training scenario simulating a helicopter crash in a combat zone, which took place aboard the installation June 14.
The corpsmen, along with three physician assistants from the clinic, were seeking certification in Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) during the final field exercise, which followed two days of classroom teaching by four instructors from Navy Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, and two from NHCPR.
“In the classroom the corpsmen learned what is required of them in a combat casualty care situation,” explained Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Roberto Medrano, the TCCC program manager at NHCPR. “After practicing the skills in the classroom, they were graded during the final exercise. The instructors have a checklist to follow to make sure each student is performing to standard.”
The three phases of combat casualty care taught include Care Under Fire, quickly applying a tourniquet and clearing the kill zone; Tactical Field Care, assessing the casualty and their injuries; and TACEVAC, calling in a helicopter to medevac the patient. But the first task the corpsmen performed was the proper packing of their medical bag.
“The equipment was there, but they had to put their own kit together,” Medrano said. “They need to know where their equipment is and how to use it.”
As the corpsmen rushed toward the Simulated Helo Crash Site – located in a secluded wooded area near Fishing Point – instructors shouted and screamed to create chaos and mimic a combat environment. Lying near the helicopter wreckage were four teaching tool mannequins representing the casualties.
TOMManikins are realistic, reactive trauma mannequins whose multiple appendages can simulate a variety of wounds, including gunshot, blast, and burns to provide full mission profiles in combat scenarios.
“You can feel them breathe and check their pulse during patient assessment,” Medrano noted. “There’s simulated blood and if a tourniquet is not applied properly, they’ll continue to bleed. They’re also heavy to simulate [the body weight of] a real casualty to be carried in a hostile environment.”
TCCC was created to teach evidence-based, life-saving techniques and strategies for providing the best trauma care on the battlefield, and each corpsman must complete the initial training to earn a TCCC certificate and is required to recertify every three years afterward to maintain readiness.
“Medicine is constantly changing, so in three years, there may be new updates,” Medrano said. “There’s always room for improvement and the instruction is constantly changing based on the type of injuries seen in combat environments and the lessons learned there.”
Medrano noted the research shows nearly 90% of American service members who die from combat wounds do so before they arrive at a medical treatment facility. This figure highlights the importance of the trauma care provided on the battlefield by combat medics, corpsmen, and pararescuemen.
The goal of Navy Medicine East this calendar year is to have all hospital corpsmen and physician assistants 100% qualified by the end of 2019, and Medrano – working in conjunction with Staff Education and Training Department Head, Kathy Keister – is well on his way toward meeting that goal at Pax River.
“With this recent exercise, we increased readiness from 77% to nearly 90%, and that’s important,” he noted. “Corpsmen can be pulled at any time and they’re expected to be ready at all times.”