Training builds foundation for deploying medics

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
  • Air Force News Agency
The acrid, hazy smoke hangs over a scene that is straight out of a nightmare.

A red substance that looks like blood is smeared all over the two vehicles, and one of the vehicles is tipped over on its side. Fake body parts and debris are scattered everywhere like a petulant child's unappreciated toys.

As the students enter the training area, they are instantly assaulted by loud rock music and the screams of simulated victims. They fan out to assess the situation.

When it comes to setting a realistic scene, the instructors at the Expeditionary Medical Support, or EMEDS, course pull no punches. The one-week course is held here 20 times a year and classes include from 50 to 70 students.

Capt. Steven Keifer is a course instructor. He said the EMEDS process has been taught since the late '90s, but the ideas were born after Operation Desert Storm. In general terms, EMEDS is about doing more with less. The number of aircraft pallets needed for an EMEDS facility has dropped to 21 from the 55 needed to build a facility of comparable size in non-EMEDS fashion.

The captain said he explains to people the course is the Air Force equivalent of the famous television series "M*A*S*H." He said that every effort is made to keep it realistic and challenging for the students. This includes the students setting up their own tents as if they had just arrived at a bare base.

"We expose them to as much of a simulated environment as we can, to what they may actually encounter when they go over to Iraq and Afghanistan," Captain Keifer said.
"We make them establish their hospital in a bare base setting and they build it up."

The course also combines with the Critical Care Air Transport Team, or CCATT, course to ratchet up the realism. This combination allows simulated patients to be airlifted in and out of the EMEDS training area.

Senior Airman Terrence Marshall is taking the training for the second time. He said it proved invaluable during his first deployment and that this time he felt a lot more confident about participating in class. He said that he didn't enjoy setting up the tents but has enjoyed the rest of the class.

"This class helps out the people who only have a clinical background and need to learn about deployed medicine the most," he said.

The class can be used worldwide and is not limited to wartime applications.

"EMEDS hospitals are built around the concept that we should be able to deploy to a contingency operation, a humanitarian mission or even a disaster response," Captain Keifer said.

This was put to the test on the home front when a tornado decimated the town of Greensburg, Kan., May 4. The Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Air Refueling Wing, based out of Forbes Field in Topeka, was able to get an EMEDS facility up and running by May 21.

Mary Sweet, the administrator of Kiowa County Memorial Hospital, referred to the EMEDS facility as a "God-send."

"I have 99 employees at the hospital," Mrs. Sweet said. "Probably a third of them are medical professionals who would not have been able to find work elsewhere in the community. The facility allows them to stay in Greensburg."

She said the facility was a major factor in the local citizens' choice to stay and rebuild the community.

"We can't say 'thank you' enough to the National Guard for providing this," she said.

Captain Keifer said that the situation in Kansas really shows what the EMEDS concept is capable of. He said that a lot of information and training is squeezed into a week.

"We give the students a lot to process in a week," he said. "The skills they are learning are essential to good deployed medicine. EMEDS is the perfect program for many situations."