Friday, April 10, 2009

Afghanistan deployed corpsmen sharpen life-saving skills

Date written: April 7, 2009
Story by: Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – A medical officer sits at her desk awaiting any of her hundreds of Marines to walk through her door. She’s trained and ready to tackle any medical concern they may have. The door opens, a tall Marine walks into her tent and says, “Doc… you got a band-aid?” with a smile of relief she responds, “Yes, yes I do.”

For Navy Lt. Janet West and her team of experienced corpsmen, that simple exchange is commonplace. The majority of Marines under her charge ask for first aid supplies or the occasional medical curiosity to be answered. But she and her staff know that at any moment a life threatening situation may occur, and they have to be ready.

Despite their high operational tempo, West and her Afghanistan deployed corpsmen, with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan’s aviation combat element, set time aside to hone their already sharpened medical skills on a routine basis.

Recently, an example of their routine training events presented itself April 7, when West, the ACE flight surgeon, conducted a half-hour refresher on how to splint broken bones on Kandahar Air Field, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
What may first seem like just a short lesson served as a perfect example of the many medical skills the combat first responders practice to ensure they can provide quick and efficient medical treatment when the bullets start flying.

“Short, but frequent, sessions keep them fresh, engaged and helps them retain what they’ve learned,” West said. “When they find themselves in that combat situation and their stress is high, they’ll revert to their lowest level of training, the things they can do without having to think.”

West gives her “hip-pocket” classes as often as she can, ranging from routine injuries to advanced life saving techniques and on occasion, case studies of any recent or unusual scenarios they’ve encountered while deployed.

It’s those skills, practiced repeatedly over time, that have become as natural to her team as breathing, which is good news for their Marines.

“It keeps us on our toes,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen L. Thurston, the leading petty officer in charge of the ACE’s aid station. “It keeps us sharp. That way when we do see those injuries, knowing how to treat it just becomes second nature. This way we can just jump in and fix them when they’re hurt. That’s what Marines love about us and that’s what we’re here for.”

SPMAGTF-A’s mission is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, with a focus on training and mentoring the Afghan National Police.
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