“EXERCISE! EXERCISE! EXERCISE!”
Alarm black initial release, bellows from the alarm towers, as the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing simulates an airborne missile attack, May 13, at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The purpose of the exercise is twofold: to train US service members on the PSAB to take cover in the event of an actual attack and, perhaps most importantly, to respond after an attack.
The biggest player in this specific exercise was the 378th Expeditionary Medical Squadron, which responded to a simulated high casualty incident. As one of the first groups to emerge from the bunkers, their job is to find those who have been injured before they find shelter.
“During base emergencies, we split into our emergency medical response team, which includes field response teams,” said Capt. Jessica Barlow, emergency physician for the 378th EMDS. “The response teams on the ground will go out and do point-of-care treatments, like rapid stabilization to stop the bleeding as much as possible and other quick interventions they can do while trying to evacuate patients. “
The 378th EMDS emergency medical services teams that are integrated with firefighters are unique to the U.S. Air Force Central Command area of responsibility, as no other wing in theater integrates medics with firefighters. Although it has long been a common concept in the civilian sector, Barlow hinted. The partnership between medics and firefighters, assigned to the 378th Civil Engineer Squadron, highlights the effectiveness of the practice in military operations.
“It’s been really beneficial for all parties involved to make sure we have a quick response to any medical situations, and it helps all of us train and be multi-faceted Airmen,” Barlow said.
The faster a victim can be found, stabilized, and sent to their next stop for treatment, the more likely they and other victims are to survive. Having professionally trained medics in the field whenever possible, alongside firefighters who are trained in tactical combat casualty care and who can help keep the scene safe, allows for a smoother care pathway and more hands available to The wounded.
The 378th EMDS has yet another standout piece in the US Central Command theater that can help those most likely to succumb to their wounds, to have a much greater chance of survival. This resource is the squadron’s Surgical Ground Team (GST).
The GST includes: an emergency physician, anesthesiologist, general surgeon, nurse in the intensive care unit or emergency, a health administrator who helps break down the 9 lines (which initiates the medical evacuation process ) and a surgical technologist.
“If we have someone who needs surgery, we’ll decide if having it here is the right thing to do for the patient,” Barlow said. “But it comes at a cost. By performing surgeries here in a tent, there are usually risks of infection. If it means saving a patient’s life before transporting them, we absolutely will if we need to.
The 378th AEW at PSAB is currently in the process of constructing more permanent structures that could significantly increase the unit’s medical capabilities in the long term. But in the meantime, a joint force partnership with the US Army’s Task Force Longhorn and their HH-60M MedEvac Black Hawk helicopter services makes up for the current lack of resources versus infrastructure.
“If we could do stabilization surgery in less than 30 minutes, we would do it here,” Barlow said. “If it takes longer and/or is less beneficial for the patient to do this operation here, then we will transfer the casualties to Task Force Longhorn. With them, it takes about 45 minutes in total to bring the patient to Riyadh, answer line 9 and call him.
The partnerships formed by the 378th EMDS are both critical to augmenting the unit’s surgical and medical capabilities and to the overall direction of AFCENT medical capabilities in the region.
“It’s really a unique situation that we have here and really beneficial to have this partnership,” Barlow said. “The latest rotation has done a fantastic job of fostering that relationship and really creating a much safer route to care for all of our patients here, not just in mass simulation exercises.”
In the event of a true mass casualty situation, it is likely that many patients will fall into a “critical” category during triage. The 378th AEW’s rapid response time, EMDS partnerships and strong carrier relationships and available expeditionary treatment all help ensure the highest possible level of care. As a more sustainable presence at PSAB increases, the capabilities of the 378th EMDS may in the future be able to support other units in the Ninth Air Force area of responsibility.
“I feel very lucky because I had a great transfer from the group that came before me,” Barlow said. “Those relationships and those partnerships and all the other things that we do together, we do it as a team and really support the overall mission and not just the medical mission.”
Like their ambulances that don’t stop when lights flash, the 378th EMDS crosses the stretcher route as quickly and safely as possible to get the wounded into the right lane for longer life. Practice makes perfect and that’s what basic mass exercises are for.