Army combat medics and field nurses trained with future military doctors Saturday at Western University of Health Sciences in Lebanon.
The reserve soldiers, 70 of them from the 396th Combat Support Hospital, known as the Timber Medics, were down from their headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, for the training day. The medical students they trained with are having their tuition paid for by the Department of Defense, and upon graduation will serve in one of our nation's four military branches.
It's the first-ever such training day in the state, where soldiers and students worked together. Making it happen was a two-year-effort by Dr. Derrick Sorweide, an assistant professor at the school and a major with the 396th. His status with the school and with the Army helped make the training day possible, but he said lining up the protocol on both sides took some doing.
Teaching a class on triage, Sorweide reminds the medics and med students of the first two rules of combat medicine:
Number 1: Soldiers die. Number 2: You cannot change rule number one.
"Rule number three is 'A medic will do anything or give everything to disprove the first two rules,'" he told the class.
Showing slides of injured people with varying degrees of severity, Sorweide worked with the students to identify priorities. Showing a photo of a badly mangled man on a roadside, he explained that the man had a pulse when they got to him, even though his throat had been cut and he was ripped open from his chest to his belt. The photo is real, Sorweide said. "Bad guys did that to him and left him there.
"The thing to think of in a situation like that is, 'Where are the bad guys?'" he said. "Did they leave the body there to draw us in for an attack?"
Sorweide told his students they would reach a point where they "freak out a little bit," and their brain stops.
"We can't give you full-on battlefield conditions," he said. "The combat medics are gonna get that, unfortunately."
Beyond the situational awareness and site security training, what the soldiers and students are learning moves beyond standard military instruction, and in fact marks a shift toward more comprehensive and collaborative trauma care in the military. Specialist Sydney Von Seggern, a combat medic who served in Iraq in 2011 with the 1st Cavalry, said the training she's getting is unmatched."
"In eight years, I've never seen training like this," she said.
Von Seggern and her fellow soldiers are learning a collection of advanced trauma procedures, ranging from chest tube placement to inserting an IV directly into bone marrow. More importantly, they're practicing on real human bodies supplied by the anatomy lab at the school.
"Normally, we practice on mannequins, so we're playing make believe," said Von Seggern. "It's amazing to be able to practice on a real body."
Col. Katherine Simonson is commander of the 396th. She's been an Army nurse since 1988. She said the training her solders are getting on this day is a real luxury.
"It's incredible to have this world-class instruction," she said. "Back when we were training medics in the '80s and '90's, we didn't have them doing all this."
Simonson, who is a rare breed of Army nurse in that she wears jump wings, having gone to army airborne school at Fort Benning in Georgia, wants her soldiers to apply what they learn here to their business of being soldiers.
They'll get that chance in March, when their new skills are applied to a combat zone simulation training exercise at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington. There, her soldiers will operate in a field hospital that the army can tailor to match, as closely as possible, the realities of war.
"We can make it dark and loud, and introduce smells and sounds to make it real," she said.
Later in the year, her 783 soldiers will travel to Hunter Liggett, a combat support hospital training facility in California, where they'll participate in war games, complete with an opposing force threatening to overrun their position.
Such real-time experience is important, but others in the unit, like Von Seggern, have deployed to combat zones. Col. Greg Frazier is head nurse with the 396th. He served in combat with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2007. When asked if he was scared, he's ready with a "Yes," and adds that his training was vital to helping him keep his head.
"We had a suicide bomber at our gate one night," he said. "It was so close that I felt the shock wave from the blast. And then when the casualties started coming in, I paused for just a second and realized 'This is not training.'"
Von Seggern also said the first time it's real, it gets your attention.
"The first time somebody yells, 'Medic!' you realize, Oh, that's me!" she said.