NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Amid a cacophony of theatrical shrieks and cries of pain, medics from Charlie Company, 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, sharpened their skills with a mass casualty training exercise at Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan, May 12.
“You train as you fight,” said 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Watts, treatment platoon leader, Charlie Co., of Bardstown, Ky., who spearheaded the drill.
He’s not just saying this, either. The medics of Charlie Co. had only been in country a few weeks when a complex attack at Fenty on December 2, 2012, created an actual mass casualty event.
In order to stay prepared for these types of events, Charlie Co. conducts these mass casualty exercises, or MASCAL drills, about once per month to hone perishable medical skills, said U.S. Army Spc. Stephanie Emerson, medic, Charlie Co., of Peru, Ind.
The May 12 training exercise had a particular focus: to break in a new provider (doctor) and a new forward surgical team.
“We wanted to do a MASCAL drill to incorporate both of them so they could see how it actually functions,” Watts said.
In addition to this, Charlie Co. tested emergency blood-drive procedures for the first time.
The Dec. 2 attack tested the blood supply system at the aid station, so they have to be prepared for resupply from elsewhere while handling casualties, Watts said. In case they ever need whole blood again in an emergency situation, Charlie Co. has had the practice now to meet the need locally.
During the MASCAL exercise, volunteers sporting note cards describing their injuries sprawled all over the pavement outside the aid station, clamoring for help.
Charlie Co. medics attended to each simulated victim in turn, first ascertaining the severity of the Soldier’s injuries, and then establishing an order for treatment based on the Soldier’s chances for survival. Those most critically injured were seen first.
After triage, medics carried the wounded Soldiers into the aid station on litters. Depending on the severity of the injury, the Soldier was either transported to the treatment room and from there to holding, or directly to patient holding.
“It was chaos,” Emerson said. “It was a joint effort to treat the patients and get them life-saving procedures and get them to a higher echelon of care.”
After the first round of volunteers had been put through the team’s care, another wave of casualties showed up, similar to what happened during the Dec. 2 attack. This wave of casualties included a handful of medics tapped to play victims for their teammates.
Emerson was one of the medics who became a victim during the second round. Her injury was a gunshot blast to the jaw, which meant she couldn’t speak during the drill.
She said she was quite impressed with how her fellow medics handled themselves and how they cared for her.
“They were asking me questions, and asking me to answer yes or no to see if I was coherent,” Emerson said. “They were doing a great job. I’m very proud of them.”
From the perspective of a patient, of a frontline medic, and of the officer in charge, the exercise was a success.
“There was no hesitation, there was good communication flow, everything was done in a quick and important manner,” said Watts. “They didn’t act like it was a drill; they acted like it was for real.”
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – With the roar of a particularly loud lawnmower, a light gray unmanned aerial vehicle shoots off a launching ramp into the late afternoon sky to patrol around Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan, May 2.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year, UAVs like the RQ-7B Shadow collect intelligence and provide security for troops on the ground in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Shadow is one of several types of UAVs launched from FOB Fenty, and each machine has its own capabilities and uses.
Taken together, the fleet provides a vital support package for the entire brigade.
“It gives ground commanders a perspective on something they can’t always see from a tactical operations center,” said U.S. Army Spc. Tyler Brewer, unmanned aircraft systems repair and technical inspector, UAS Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, of Eugene, Ore. “It prevents matters from getting worse for Soldiers on the ground.”
This is particularly vital as U.S. troops continue to advise and assist their Afghan counterparts with their country’s security.
“The main thing to do right now is to provide coverage for the Afghan National Army so that they can get ready to take control of their country,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Chad Keirns, platoon sergeant, UAS Platoon, of Cincinnati, Ohio. “We’re able to capture a lot of intelligence for the ANA and provide it to them; that way, they can have a more holistic view of what’s transpiring.”
Keirns, who has worked with UAVs since 2005, said he and others in his field are looking forward to seeing the full potential of UAVs realized as time progresses.
For example, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ian Geissler, platoon leader, UAS Platoon, of Whitefish, Mont., described how UAVs can help combat forest fires.
UAVs can be sent out ahead of manned aircraft to scout a forest fire’s location, direction and burn path, Geissler said, thereby reducing the risk to human life while providing real-time visibility.
In addition, UAVs are less costly to fly than helicopters and eliminate pilot-fatigue in scouting missions, saving the pilots for the actual fire-fighting, said Geissler.
With assisting fire prevention services as but one example of UAVs’ potential, the trajectory of the field is bright.
“Right now, imagination is our limit,” Keirns said. “There’s no cap to the future of the UAV.”
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Nine U.S. Army Soldiers competed in the Combined Task Force Bastogne Soldier and NCO of the Quarter Competition at Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan, May 3.
Four U.S. Army sergeants faced a board of six U.S. Army sergeants major to compete for the Non-Commissioned Officer of the Quarter title; five junior enlisted Soldiers competed for Soldier of the Quarter.
The board orally tested each Soldier’s knowledge of a wide range of subjects, including military history and law, current events, weapons handling and first aid. Soldiers were also judged based on their military bearing, their unit’s recommendation and how they expressed themselves in an essay.
U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Victor Fernandez, command sergeant major, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, of San Antonio, Texas, and the president of the board, said the purpose of the competition is fourfold.
“First, it helps foster mentorship within the unit,” he said. “Second, it helps individual growth and development; third, it helps maintain the heritage and tradition of the Army; fourth, it allows us to pick the best of the best.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Daren Rodman, Bravo team leader, Bushmaster Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, 101 Airborne Div., of Ellicott City, Md., won the NCO of the Quarter title.
U.S. Army Spc. James Jolly, satellite transportable terminal operator, Charlie Co., 1st STB, 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Div., of Hoehne, Colo., won the Soldier of the Quarter title.
Both Rodman and Jolly have competed in multiple boards.
“Every Soldier wants to know how they’re doing,” Jolly said. “At this competition, you get reassurance that you’re where you need to be.”
Rodman and Jolly, representing TF Bastogne’s approximately 4,000 Soldiers, will have the opportunity to compete in the Soldier and NCO of the Quarter competition at the division level later this year.
JALALABAD AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Stepping off at dawn with more than 22 pounds of weight from combined gear and bag, they began their march in the early morning hours.
U.S. Army Soldiers with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, conducted a Danish Contingent, or DANCON March, at Forward Operating Base Fenty, April 20.
“The DANCON March is an old tradition from 1972 where the Danish peacekeepers in Cyprus started out with a march like this,” said Danish Lt. Col. Michael Nielsen, a United Nations military advisor.
The DANCON March invites Soldiers from nations allied to Denmark to participate in a 25-kilometer or a 100-kilometer march, and has taken place in numerous countries around the world.
The Soldiers were first required to weigh themselves and their gear, one at a time, then they received a briefing from Nielsen about the march. After the briefing, everyone moved to the start line and were released on their own to complete the march.
The goal was to complete the march at a distance of 25 kilometers within six hours, for a total of three full laps around Jalalabad Airfield, according to Nielsen.
Each Soldier who participated had their own reasons for taking part in the march.
“I wanted to try and come out here and show my support for the NATO forces and come out and support my platoon because they are gone on mission right now,” said Spc. Adam Wojciechowski, a grenadier with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, and native to South Bend, Ind.
“For me personally, I’m representing two organizations here,” said Nielsen. “The one is a Danish organization, and today is a way to show my appreciation since, during all the wars we have been in, more or less, we have been working with American troops.”
Nielsen said, “For me, it’s an honor to give something back because you (American Soldiers) are also giving a lot back to the Danish troops, so that’s an honor.”
“Also, I’m the only one out here and I get a lot more support from American forces here than I can get from other U.N. organizations,” Nielsen said.
The Soldiers were allowed to complete the march at their own pace instead of as a group. During the march, there were checkpoints set up so they could check-in to keep track of how much of the march they had completed.
“It was rough at certain parts, but you know the feeling when you push through it and get done at the finish line,” said Wojciechowski.
When each Soldier finished their march, they were awarded a medal from Nielsen for successful completion of the DANCON March.
“I liked it. It was fun,” said Wojciechowski.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, Afghanistan – It’s hot, the sun’s not even up yet and it’s the weekend.
Given a choice, most people would still be in bed with the air conditioning on.
And then there are those few, those crazy few, who do otherwise in a grand fashion.
Running marathons and half marathons in a combat theater isn’t a new phenomenon. The challenge may be unconventional given time or space constraints, but marathons appear on the calendar with predictable regularity.
For instance, two posts on the outskirts of Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, each hosted a marathon over the April 27-28 weekend.
On April 27, Forward Operating Base Fenty boasted a 7-lap full marathon asphalt course that skirted the landing strip, with half-marathoners running half that.
On April 28, FOB Finley-Shields’s half-marathon required participants to make 22 laps around the much smaller post, the track varying from plum-sized gravel to asphalt as dusty as at Fenty.
But why? Why run 13.1, or 26.2 miles in a hot, arid environment at five o’clock in the morning? Therein lies the rub.
The Music City Marathon at FOB Fenty was set-up by U.S. Army 1st Lt. Rebecca Stratford, medical operations officer-in-charge, 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, of King George, Va., for two main reasons.
Stratford said she’d heard of other units hosting marathons on deployment, and she wanted to set one up during her deployment as a change of pace to help boost unit morale.
“Everybody loves to get out and do something a little bit different,” Stratford said. “It kind of takes away the stress of the day.”
It’s not just about raising morale here in Afghanistan, though.
Several of the runners at Fenty wore tributes to the victims of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, whether inscribed on their racing tags, or, as in the case of U.S. Army Sgt. Terry Antee, a Soldier with the Task Force Long Knife, and a native of Wichita Falls, Texas, on a prominent yellow armband.
Antee said he is a member of a racing group in the States, which is currently doing a fundraiser for Boston Marathon victims. Their symbol is a yellow armband that says, “We run for Boston.”
“That’s why I’m actually wearing this one here today: to help raise money for the people of Boston,” Antee said.
The half-marathon at Finley-Shields was a memorial.
Originally planned as an April Fool’s Day run, the death of U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Cable, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, who was killed in action, March 27, near Jalalabad, prompted the command to make a change.
The Sgt. Cable Running of the Bulldogs Memorial half-marathon attracted participants who wouldn’t normally run because it was more than a morale booster, said U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Slamkowski, integration detachment platoon leader, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Inf. Reg., 101st Airborne Div., of Colorado Springs, Colo.
“This one took on an even greater meaning in that it was the memorial run for our fallen Sgt. Cable,” Slamkowski said. “I think it motivated a lot of people to get out here and do it, people that normally wouldn’t even run maybe five or ten miles.”
Some Soldiers, such as U.S. Army Spc. Cesar Garcia, radio transmitter operator, HHB, 327th Inf. Reg., of Watertown, N.Y., carried a loaded rucksack for the entirety of the 13-mile run.
Garcia said he carried this burden, which weighed more than 60 pounds, to prove to himself that he could do it, but moreover, to honor his fallen comrade.
“I did it just because Sgt. Cable was a great guy,” Garcia said.
Whether a participant finished the rough course first (as Slamkowski did), or last (as Garcia did with his heavy pack), each one paid tribute to a fallen brother.
Slamkowski said, “It was a great event to honor Sgt. Cable with our pain out here.”
The success of both runs boosted morale, offered support to folks back home and remembered those taken along the way.
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