By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
BAGHDAD – As the sun slowly rose beyond the palm trees on signal hill, Soldiers worked together in two teams of nine to complete a mile-long combat lifesaver training exercise to end a three-day CLS course, here, July 22.
“Okay, everyone set?” asked Sgt. Janelle Graham, a combat medic and course instructor with Headquarters Support Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. “You need to do a fireman’s carry from here to the quarter-mile mark.”
Soldiers in full gear lined up with stretchers, skeds and aid bags as the Sacramento, Calif. native explained the first task. On her signal, one Soldier on each team was hoisted onto the shoulders of another and the whole team shuffled down the road. On cues from the medics, teams stopped and switched ‘casualties’ and equipment so everyone got a chance to complete the first task.
The teams, sweaty and focused, worked to keep up with the demands of the medics.
“Skeds! Get your casualty on a sked! Your casualty has a gunshot wound on their left leg!” shouted Graham. As Soldiers placed their ‘casualties’ on the skeds, Graham eyed the placement of the straps across the ‘casualty’s’ chest and legs. As one team member strapped on a combat tourniquet to an ‘injured’ leg, another applied an emergency trauma bandage. Then the teams lugged their equipment and their casualty on their improvised litter to the half-mile marker.
“Okay, you need to administer IV’s,” yelled Graham as the teams reached the marker. Teams switched to four-man litters and quickly gathered items needed for an intravenous injection out of their combat lifesaver bags.
Securely strapped to her litter, Pfc. Lauren McKeehan, a supply clerk with HSC, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div., from Texarkana, Ark., extended her arm to Pfc. Kenny Lawson of Battery E, 3rd Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment from Philadelphia, who quickly applied a tourniquet and had IV fluid flowing into her vein in less than two minutes. After taping the line to her arm, Lawson, an air defense control computer operator and maintainer, held the bag of fluid aloft as he and the rest of his team took off for the finish line.
Everything the Soldiers have learned the past two days was being put to the test. Day one of instruction consisted of controlling bleeding of an extremity, opening and maintaining the airway, treating penetrating chest wounds and decompressing a tension pneumothorax. Training on day two consisted of evacuating a casualty using a sked or improvised litter, inserting a nasopharyngeal airway tube, initiating a saline lock, administering an intravenous infusion and initiating a medevac card and requesting a medical evacuation. The CLS class usually lasts five days but, in a deployed environment, there is a limited amount of time that Soldiers can be away from their daily duties so the class is taught and evaluated in three days.
“I like that there is a lot of hands-on training,” said McKeehan. “You get to interact with new people and there are a lot of things that have changed since the last time I took a CLS class in Korea.”
Lots of things are changing.
“All Soldiers are now required to be combat lifesaver certified,” said Capt. Marolyn Pearson, the division’s senior physician’s assistant assigned to HSC, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div. “If we’re in a mass casualty situation, encounter an improvised explosive device, or injuries during a patrol, there are usually one or two medics around,” she added. “If a medic is not available, a Soldier who is CLS qualified can do almost anything a medic can do.”
Fatigue set in as Graham warned about communication and teamwork when lifting and lowering the litter as McKeehan’s teammates shuffled along the side of the road, struggling, stopping and switching out from carrying the litter to carrying equipment. The end was in sight and Cpl. Michael Warren, an information technology specialist with Company B, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div., encouraged his team. “We’re almost there, keep it up!” Warren, who hails from Dexter, Mo., led his team past the finish line. The Soldiers lowered the litter and proceeded to suck in air and suck down water.
With the exercise complete for team one, Lawson withdrew the IV from McKeehan’s arm and the team moved to some shade to wait on team two. As they waited and drank water, Warren pulled out his notes and began reviewing his team for the written test that was set for later in the day.
“You really have to learn to depend on each other,” said Pfc. Seth Crowell, a supply clerk with Company A, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div. “Communication is important and I’ve also learned that you have to be conditioned or you’ll burn out physically. It was a good experience,” the Buffalo, N.Y. native said as he poured water over his head. “I have a new respect for medics.”
The combat medic who taught the class and supervised the practical exercises for the past three days was happy about the results.
“I saw a lot of good teamwork today,” said Graham. “Lawson and his team did great with the IV, they were communicating, and I think they need to work on their PT [physical training] more,” she said as she walked back to her ambulance.
“I’m proud of them,” said Graham. “They all passed and we now have 18 more combat lifesavers here to help if needed.”