KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan – It’s one of the worst-case scenarios on the battlefield. Some Soldiers have been seriously wounded and are losing blood. As each minute passes, their chances for survival lessen.
When they arrive at the airfield at Forward Operating Base Salerno it is important to get them into the hands of medical professionals as soon as possible.
In fact, doing so can literally mean the difference between life and death.
In order to accomplish that mission, the FOB Salerno Combat Support Hospital recently reached out for help and hosted an all-volunteer litter-bearer class.
“The purpose of this event is to make sure we have enough trained individuals to unload mass casualty patients from either a medical evacuation helicopter or field ambulance, and get them quickly and safely into the hospital,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ivan Montanez, a 35-year-old medical supply specialist and instructor for the litter-bearer class, 344th Combat Support Hospital. “We wanted to ensure that the Soldiers and Airmen who go out to help are trained up and ready to go.”
Earlier in the week a notification was sent via e-mail at FOB Salerno giving information about the class and asking for interested volunteers. By the time the class was ready to begin, more than 25 students had arrived to participate.
The training began outside of the hospital with a quick familiarization of a “rickshaw,” a two-wheeled, metal-framed, litter-bearing device designed to assist in the quick and safe transport of patients.
After seeing how the rickshaw is employed, the students were taken to a field ambulance where they were shown the proper procedures for unloading patients and placing them on a rickshaw.
The next bit of training took the students to the flight-line, where about ninety-percent of medical evacuation patients arrive.
After discussing proper safety techniques and necessary equipment, the students got some hands-on training practicing loading and unloading “patients” from rickshaws on and off an awaiting UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.
Once the volunteers had a good understanding of the procedures, it was time to add an element of realism to the training.
The medevac helicopter started its engines and moved into its normal arrival position on the airfield. The students again took turns loading and unloading volunteer patients.
“I enjoyed the training tremendously,” said U.S. Army Spc. Terence R. Ellis, a 24-year-old preventative medical specialist from Washington, D.C., assigned to the 71st Medical Detachment, 344th CSH. “I learned how to properly unload patients and get them to the help they need. I now have a better understanding of everything from start to finish.”
According to Montanez, having more trained personnel will be a big benefit.
“Their service is very valuable,” said the Brentwood, N.Y., native. “When we have mass casualties and they show up, they will be a tremendous help. Even if we don’t need them for litter-bearers, we can still use them in some capacity. We can always use a helping hand.”
Although they are not obligated to help out in the future, the students seemed excited about learning the new skills and putting them to use when called upon.
“Now that I have this training I will be ready to help out when the next mass casualties come in,” said Ellis. “As soon as I hear the call, I’m going to find my way here and assist the medical staff in any way I can.”
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