U.S. Army Spc. Daniel Schiffbauer, a medic with the 384th Military Police Battalion and part of the Afghan National Army Clinical Transition Team, watches as ANA medics treat a simulated open-chest wound during a mass casualty training exercise, Nov. 2, 2012. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Katie D. Summerhill)
CAMP SABALU-HARRISON, Afghanistan (December 3, 2012) — With the loud “Boom!” of an improvised explosive device, all of a sudden there are eight simulated casualties on the Afghan National Army camp. A few short seconds later, the ANA medics race from the Troop Medical Center (TMC) to respond to the casualties, ranging from head injuries, amputated arms and legs, and open chest wounds.
Quickly, the medics fall in on the injured and perform casualty field care, then load them into ambulances and rush back to the TMC for in-depth medical treatment.
This time, it was just a training event; a simulation of an attack that caused mass casualties (MASCAL). The U.S. trainers feel having the ANA medics training outside of basic sick call is essential for their sustainability.
“The MASCAL training is very important due to the fact that most of these ANA Soldiers will at sometime see or be involved in an actual MASCAL event, if they already haven’t,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brian Gibson, a military policeman with the 304th Military Police Company and non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the Clinical Transition Team. “This training will make them better prepared to handle a MASCAL situation.”
The training consisted of realistic wound make-up and props, use of ambulances, and eight casualties, each with a different injury. The variety of injuries and realistic wounds, to include mock pulsing blood on amputee props, forced the ANA to respond as closely as they would in a real situation. The training gave the ANA the feeling that even though they are still learning, they are well-prepared and ready if something actually happened.
“We can provide all the care we need,” said Pvt. 1st Class Mishtaba, an ANA medic on Camp Sabalu-Harrison. “The more training we do like this, the more professional we get, so it will be easier to control the situation.”
This was the second MASCAL exercise the ANA participated in. Through the two events, the U.S. trainers see the progression of the ANA medics from sick-call operators to well-rounded medics.
“The training shows that these Soldiers are becoming capable medical professionals,” said Gibson. “I believe with the knowledge and understanding they have received, they are capable of handling an actual MASCAL event.”
Gibson felt the only set-back throughout the training was the language barrier; but not everything needed a translator.
“This group of Soldiers is responding and learning very well with hands-on training,” explained Gibson. “You can really see the excitement on the ANA medics’ faces when they understand the training.”
The excitement from the ANA medics shows a promising future for these Soldiers who understand the full capacity of their role.
“As a medic, any problems that occur to either U.S. or ANA, I have to help,” said Sgt. Nagibullah, an ANA medic.
While the ANA medics know that currently, they could end up having both U.S. and Afghan patients, one day, the U.S. part of the equation will be gone.
As the U.S. leaves, the importance of mastering the skills of emergency treatment becomes more imminent to the ANA.
“We need to get the training and we need to work together in case this happens and the U.S. is not here,” explained Nagibullah. “I need to learn now before the U.S. leaves.”
While training is always the first priority, there is a side benefit of joint training events like this.
“Doing these large training events allows us to show the leadership, with both the U.S. and the ANA, that we are working well together and making large steps forward to meeting both sides’ future goals,” said Gibson.
To make an event like this happen, a great deal of hard work and partnership takes place. This took weeks of planning, on top of a working relationship already built by the U.S. medics and training team with the ANA medics and leadership. The U.S. Soldiers do this selflessly, and in seeing the fruits of their labor, it feels like the long hours at work and the months away from home are worth it.
“After completing these events it shows that we are making a difference here,” said Gibson. “Today’s training proved that the ANA is getting closer to being able to be medically self-sustained.”
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Jose Picart, a member of the 94th Combat Support Hospital Clinical Transition Team. “We have come a long way from just showing them how to do sick call to showing them how to react to a trauma setting. They are good medics.”
The U.S. and ANA have another MASCAL exercise in the works to continue fine-tuning the skills of the medics. Through the training, the U.S. will leave Camp Sabalu-Harrison with expert medics who have the ability to provide top-notch care, both in routine operations as well as emergency situations.