ABOARD THE USS TARAWA -- -- Marines and Sailors here recently participated in a mass casualty drill in which more than 20 Marines became simulated casualties, with symptoms ranging from disoriented to amputated limbs.
The drill tested the medical staff and other shipboard personnel’s procedures for helping a massive number of victims at once.
Following a simulated flight deck explosion, pre-designated Marines quickly assumed the role of injured Marines. A member of the flight deck medical staff arrived on scene with flight crew personnel and began accessing each victim’s condition before moving them to medical. That’s when the chaos began.
“All mass casualty drills are mass confusion,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerry Demant, corpsman, HMM-163. “This was no exception.”
As the “injured” Marines arrived, and the medical staff worked, the normally small, medical space became cramped. Corpsman attended to patients with their backs pressed against the stretchers behind them and doctors weaved through the maze of victims attending to those who most needed the urgent care.
“Most mass casualty (drills) look like a cat fight. You have a lot of different people doing a lot of different things,” Demant said. “It’s real hard to follow.”
The majority of the medical staff agreed that organization is the key. The “injured” were brought into different stations, each station assigned a corpsman, while a doctor was assigned several stations. This organization allowed the Sailors to task organize and block of the chaos of triage care.
“You focus on your patient,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Hillard, corpsman, HMM-163. “That’s your job, to save his life.”
This focus helped several of the corpsmen to complete their first mass casualty drill aboard ship. Although they are Navy personnel, many of the corpsmen are assigned to Marine units, referring to it as working on the “green side.” These Sailors often train along side the Marines, taking them far away from the sterile hospitals the ship offers.
“I’m used to working in tents. It’s completely different here,” Hillard said. “You don’t have to deal with rocks and dirt. You just have to deal with people.”
In addition to a different working environment, the “green side” Sailors also adapted to the different procedures aboard ship.
“We’re in their space, we go by their (standard operation procedures),” Demant said. “We’re basically in their house helping them.”
Amidst all the obstacles, the medical staff adapted and said the drill went very well. Navy Lt. Ryan D. Lamond, flight surgeon, HMM-163, said it’s a good place to start, and they will only get better.
“I think next time will go even smoother as that is how things usually progress during work-ups,” he said. “By the time we float, we should have a solid system for receiving and treating casualties.”
The mass casualty drill is part of the 13th MEU’s Composite Training Underway Exercise. COMTUEX is the second of three at-sea periods to prepare the 13th MEU for an upcoming deployment later this summer.