ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
The 78th Medical Group at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, held a mock emergency scenario May 17-21 to practice their skills in handling a mass casualty.
The scenario, known as Ready Eagle, was based on a simulated chemical attack and required the medics to process patients through decontamination procedures and assess levels of injury while wearing chemical gear themselves.
“We always say expect the unexpected,” said Matthew Schilling, Ready Eagle lead instructor. “Active shooters, natural disasters and things like COVID-19 outbreaks, we never know when these things are going to happen. So, maintaining medical readiness skills for any event can help save lives on or off the base. The entire medical group got this training.”
Ready Eagle was designed to test the readiness of medical professionals in a goal-oriented learning environment. The Air Force Medical Service preparedness and response oversight committee developed this as a way to reinvigorate installation medical response programs.
Schilling said Airmen spent four days in classroom training prior to the hands-on drill. The medical team gained skills in patient triage and decontamination, as well as disease containment.
This large scale effort, which had the look and feel of a catastrophe, was made possible with the help of volunteers from various departments on base.
These actors embodied an array of simulated injuries: bloody bumps, bruises and lacerations, in addition to hobbling, screaming and moaning from those wounds.
Retired military nurse and facilitator, Denise Hargrove said having those loud sounds and jarring sights are important factors of this training.
“They did a lot better compared to most units we see,” said Hargrove. “People are not used to seeing gross wounds, and that includes some on the medical team here. My assessment is that some lingered too long on the wounds instead of quickly moving to an overall assessment of patients. Timing is everything, it can be the difference of whether someone lives or dies.”
Another aspect of the exercise is the emotional toll a traumatic event can have on a person.
Capt. Donelle Clark and his mental health team were given a situation to help a distraught mother, who was separated from her two young children.
“It is very important to address the mental state of people during an emergency incident,” said Clark, 78th MDG psychiatric nurse. “It is easy to see the physical wounds, but it’s often accompanied by invisible wounds that can take longer to heal than physical wounds and possibly impair a person’s life in various ways.”
This area of study is called Psychological First Aid.
Schilling added, “We are talking people with shell shock exposure to extreme trauma. It’s not depression; it’s that acute mental health reaction that occurs. Symptoms can range broadly, from what some call the ‘thousand yard stare,’ where they zone out and go into a state of being unresponsive, or breaking down crying completely overwhelmed. So it’s a broad range in how it can happen, from panic to potentially being suicidal.”
In Clark’s scenario, the family was reunited.
“There was order to the chaos,” said Col. Eric Chumbley, 78th MDG deputy commander. “Though we have yearly mass causality training, this was our first Ready Eagle exercise. It was great training for our medics, and we thank our mission partners who came out and helped.”
For Schilling, Ready Eagle is another way to serve.
“We love conducting these trainings, because most of us (facilitators) are retired military and never had the opportunity for this type of training. I’m glad we can help them become more proficient,” said Schilling.