Anne Lord Bailey and Daniel Runyon, members of Team Unbroken, along with Meghan Williams, outreach director at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Centerstone, visited Fort Campbell’s Rascon School of Combat Medicine Sept. 16 to better understand what the life of a combat medic is like. To do so they completed what is known as a trauma lane.
The trio received approximately 90 minutes of training prior to completing a trauma lane, in which they were tasked with safely retrieving and treating a stationary mannequin, also known as a “Rescue Randy,” in an outdoor setting and then a more difficult task indoors completed in very low lighting and stress inducing conditions to save a moving mannequin with lifelike wounds.
Retired Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans, who lost her hearing, sustained a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder in a 2006 rocket attack in Afghanistan, created Team Unbroken, the first disabled team to take on the 2020 World’s Toughest Race Fiji.
The team included military veterans and civilians whose disabilities range from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries to diabetes, severe back injury and seizure disorder. They consider themselves hurt, but not broken, or unbroken.
Although they did not complete the World’s Toughest Race, their purpose was to show that disabled and injured people can compete on the same playing field with others. As a team they continue to challenge themselves at various venues across the nation.
“The heartbeat of Team Unbroken is to show ourselves and others with wounds – whether visible or invisible – that anyone with fierce determination and the right support system can face the toughest obstacles,” Bailey said in a VAntage Point interview. “The team also exemplifies the value of veterans and civilians working together for the common good.”
With that same fierce determination Bailey, Runyon and Williams took on the trauma lane at Rascon School of Combat Medicine.
“A trauma lane is how we evaluate [combat medics’] abilities on the battlefield,” said Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Eady, combat medic at Rascon School of Combat Medicine. “They’ll be expected to move and communicate as a combat medic would, and then treat a combat casualty by getting them off of the point of injury and getting them back inside where we’ll do the actual trauma lane with lights and sounds and simulating as close to a combat environment as we can.”
Both sections of the simulation have unique challenges, Eady said, and most medics struggle with remembering to take cover in Phase One, the outdoor setting.
“I think for most people the hardest part is having to hold yourself back when you see someone injured because if you just run out there you become a casualty yourself, because you want to go help, especially if it’s somebody you know in real scenarios,” Eady said, adding in a true simulation paintball guns are used to simulate bullets so medics know when they’ve failed to take cover.
In Phase Two, the indoor setting, medics must complete tasks in a very realistic environment, and it’s done mostly in the dark.
Sergeant Marc Liboon, combat medic at Rascon School of Combat Medicine, said this can be anxiety inducing for Soldiers, let alone civilians who have never completed the training.
“The second phase is called the blood lab, where it’s a simulation with light, sound effects, smoke and sometimes you can add smell,” Libbon said. “It resembles what we expect in the battlefield during night ops. So, you’re going to have smoke and all the sounds around you and then you’re going to have a patient that actually has vital signs and actually moves.”
The indoor mannequins have features that include movement, arterial bleeding features, tension hemothorax features, and they even make the sounds of someone who is in pain, he said.
Medics are expected to treat the patient in near complete darkness with the sounds of crying, gunfire, a marketplace and other real life sounds taking place around them as well as in the midst of thick smoke produced by a smoke machine in the room.
Libbon said these conditions can be tough on people the first time, but that it’s necessary to prepare for real life.
“People tend to get really nervous inside the test room and forget what to do,” he said. “That’s why it’s nice and important to practice in that kind of environment to bring out the stress in that person to know what their weaknesses are and what they need to work on.”
The importance of MARCH
Before heading out into the simulated combat situation, Bailey, Runyon and Williams received training in MARCH, the acronym used to teach medics the proper sequence for treating a Soldier who is wounded in the battlefield. MARCH stands for massive hemorrhage, airway, respirations, circulation, and head injury/hypothermia.
In a real combat situation, skipping steps can lead to a life-threatening situation, Liboon, said.
“For me, as a medic, the biggest challenge is to be on track and not to get distracted by whatever is going on around us, and also you have to go through the sequence,” he said. “You can’t skip the massive hemorrhage and go straight to the airway. That’s important because the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the battlefield is massive hemorrhage.”
Bailey, Runyon and Williams learned quickly this is indeed the most challenging part, especially when they received feedback from Eady about why their notional patient would have perished in a real combat situation.
Eady pointed out that while the team had gone through the MARCH steps, they’d left the largest wound uncovered, allowing the potential victim to bleed out.
“We forgot to stuff the wound.” Runyon said, adding during his time in the military he learned that the most efficient way is to do something efficiently, not necessarily as quick as possible. “If you hurry, you are going to miss something, and we left a potentially life-threatening wound open.”
Bailey, Runyon and Williams took the feedback to heart from the first phase and successfully completed the second phase, keeping their mannequin alive.
Completing the exercise was tough but it gave Bailey a new appreciation for combat medics, she said.
“I learned so many things, but one of the biggest eye-opening things was something that we all say we know or think we know, but until we experience it we don’t really understand, which is the value of our military’s ability to make command, momentary, high stress, lifesaving decisions,” Bailey said. “And the training they have to go through to get to that place, to be able to make those decisions confidently, and to make the right decision is something we undervalue and don’t give enough respect to that quality in our military.”
She is grateful Fort Campbell allowed her team to have the experience at the Rascon School of Combat Medicine and she hopes people learn to appreciate what combat medics do.
“For us it’s an adrenaline rush and an opportunity to experience something that we wouldn’t experience in everyday life,” Bailey said. “But for the combat medics out here training, this is real life. These aren’t hypothetical scenarios, these are things that have happened, could happen or will happen, and so the stakes are so much higher.”