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Joint medical exercise hits the beach

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- More than 250 military medics from 12 units across the country converged at the 920th Rescue Wing for a joint medical exercise Feb. 27 through March 5 to hone their capabilities for real-world wartime emergencies.

The 920th Aeromedical Staging Squadron hosted the 5th Annual MEDBEACH, a joint service exercise, to prepare military medical personnel for deployments by offering realistic hands-on scenarios that could  be encountered during combat. The exercise also provided 920th Rescue Wing reservists an opportunity to work hand-in-hand with their active duty Air Force, Air and Army National Guard and civilian counterparts.

"This exercise reinforces the total-force concept between services and within our own unit," said Maj. Stephen Grant, 920th RQW ASTS training coordinator and Jacksonville, Florida, native. "We try to mimic the most realistic situations possible during the exercise so our troops can walk into a deployment confident in their own skills, and the skills of those deployed with them."

MEDBEACH 2017 is designed not only to provide realistic training, but to do it on a budget that saves taxpayers up to $2 million by having military train military. Cost-saving comes naturally to this exercise because one weekend of intense training fulfills several annual training requirements which normally require Airmen to travel to different locations at different times throughout the year. This year's participants will receive up to 60 hours of combat readiness medical evacuation credit and full-scale exercise credit.

Medics from the 45th Space Wing also participated in the simulated war-time training.

"We don't have medical deployments here; we run a clinic," said Col. Julie Stola, 45th Medical Group commander. "From the active duty perspective, the reservists do their jobs all the time. This is why we rely on the total-force adage."

Grant echoed the importance of the total force concept of the different components working together.

"The working relationship among the 45th SW and 920th RQW is imperative, so it's a no-brainer that we should also train together," said Grant.

The work-together, train-together sentiment was the thread that wound its way through the entire exercise.

An Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and an Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter transported battlefield-injured service members.

Utilized in this year's exercise, was a state-of-the-art machine called the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine, more commonly referred to as ECMO, and with it came a specialized team from the San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas.

"This machine is amazing," said Grant. "It takes a patient that would otherwise die from significant trauma to the lungs due to a blast, infections, etc., and allows the lungs to rest by circulating blood through an artificial lung and back into the bloodstream."

It's a cradle-to-grave technology because the machine can save a life at any age, said Grant.

The MEDBEACH coordinator noted that the exercise's hands-on nature is what makes it so valuable.

"These exercises require out-of-box thinking and the ability to work under pressure," said Grant, "just as they would face downrange."

The steps taken during wartime injuries are clear, but not always concise. From the time of injury, it's a rush to get that patient off the battlefield and to the care they desperately need.

The minute a service member is injured, first-aid is administered on site, while a call for help is dispatched to the nearest rescue facility. Then, a recovery unit is sent to pick up the patient – usually a rescue helicopter – and take them to the closest combat hospital where they are handed to medics to determine their needs. Depending on that outcome, they are treated and either sent back to the United States for continuing care, or back to duty.

Combat survival rate is more than 90 percent due to an efficient patient movement system, Grant said. But due to fiscal constraints and limited manpower, it can be a challenge to keep medical Airmen trained on the latest and greatest.

"We have a lot of corporate knowledge here, and a lot of Airmen who have never deployed," said Lt. Col. Corey Anderson, 920th ASTS commander. "These are the most realistic scenarios most of them will see before an actual deployment."

"I'm impressed at how well we make realistic training for our members here," Anderson continued. "It's exciting to be able to provide these realistic training opportunities to our Airmen."