Medics strengthen bonds, solve challenges

by Staff Sgt. HollyAnn Nicom
U.S. Army

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea - One could argue the best friendships are forged through shared experiences and, sometimes, challenges. War is often a source of bonds between Soldiers that is sometimes explained as an experience that one can only realize first hand.

Prior to war, the experiences that can build a military unit's cohesion frequently are presented during training. Soldiers assigned to the 121st Combat Support Hospital recently had an opportunity to strengthen friendships and hone skills during an exercise on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

The Mar. 2-13 training involved simulated mass-casualty events, called MASCAL by those in Army's medical community. It specifically tested the medics' abilities to stand up an 84-bed CSH and react to a spectrum of traumatic situations that come in a disaster scenario.

Sgt. 1st Class Luis A. Torres, of San Antonio, Texas, serves as the senior clinical noncommissioned officer in charge of the 121st CSH. He planned many of the scenarios during the MASCAL.

One of the challenges he designed into the training event was to complete a "jump," a movement of the temporary hospital from one location to another. This required the Soldiers to tear down an established series of tents and all the equipment necessary to make the hospital function, transport them to a different location and re-establish the hospital in a new location.

Staff Sgt. Katherine Walker, a nurse assigned to the 121st and the NCOIC of the intensive care unit of the CSH, said everyone participates in physically building the tents as a group and then branch off to get their individual sections operating. Building the tents forces Soldiers who are not in each other's sections to work together.

"It builds camaraderie and a family environment as opposed to a co-worker environment," said Walker, a native of San Francisco, Calif. "Everybody works in the hospital and does their own thing, but when we come out here, we all work together."

Even loading and unloading the equipment became a good training piece because Soldiers could see how important it is to lift heavy items in and out of the vehicles properly without hurting themselves, said Torres.

Physically building the CSH is only part of the process. The biggest challenge comes when the patients begin coming through the emergency room. Some of the simulated patients were South Korean Soldiers. The language barrier posed an additional challenge to hospital workers.

Torres, the mastermind behind the training, said this was part of his plan.

"The training I'm giving them, a lot of it comes from previous experience on different deployments," said Torres. "We want to give these Soldiers some kind of stressors on purpose."

Torres added that providing stressors to the South Korean and U.S. Soldiers during this training better prepares them for dealing with any disasters that may arise in the future. It's all about thinking "outside the box" when unplanned circumstances arise that are not traditional to training.

Some of the scenarios involve taking key staff members away during hectic moments to see how lower-enlisted Soldiers react without supervision or being short staffed, said Torres.

The commander of the 121st CSH, Col. Mark Reeves, said that in an effort to maximize the training opportunity and enhance partnership of South Korean and U.S. medical units, Soldiers from both the Korean and American armies treated patients during the MASCAL.

"We pair the (South Korean) Soldiers with their like counterparts and they are hands-on participants, or they are engaged as patients during MASCAL," said Reeves. "They've been awesome in all of those roles."

The joint training is important to mission readiness should there be an event that would warrant the CSH to move to the battlefield, Reeves added.

"It's great partnership; we work very well together," said Reeves. "The importance of the alliance is invaluable."

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