FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELHI, Afghanistan --
The sounds from a controlled flurry of medical activity drifted through a narrow hallway packed with patients, stretchers and U.S. Navy corpsmen, funneling their calm conversations and unbreakable focus into the buzzing aid station.
Faced with a mass casualty situation following an attack by a suicide bomber in southern Helmand province’s Garmsir district, corpsmen with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment treated eight wounded Afghan National Policemen here, April 19, 2012.
Shortly after the attack, which targeted the police precinct headquarters in the Lakari region of Garmsir, the Afghan police transported 10 wounded men to the nearest coalition forces position, Combat Outpost Sharp. Initially triaged by three corpsmen from Kilo and Weapons Companies, 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, the policemen’s injuries demanded advanced care.
Due to adverse weather conditions, no air medevac assets were immediately available so the ANP transported eight of the casualties by vehicle to Forward Operating Base Delhi.
“Many of our corpsmen went through most of their deployment without having to respond to a serious incident,” said Chief Petty Officer Christopher Arredondo, the senior enlisted medical department representative for 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, and a 27-year-old native of Duarte, Calif. “They were grateful they didn’t have to exercise their trauma skill set because this meant none of their Marines had been injured.”
Then, without notice, Arredondo said the corpsmen had to “step up and shine.”
At FOB Delhi, the team of 28 Navy medical providers received the wounded Afghan police and began treating them in the battalion aid station.
Seaman Robert Ortiz was among these corpsmen. The situation was the first combat-related incident to which he had the opportunity to respond.
“We prepare for this type of situation in training, but you can’t fully prepare for how it actually feels,” said Ortiz, a 22-year-old native of Orlando assigned to 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines’ Trucks Platoon. “I had to fight my adrenaline from taking over … to slow down, take a breath and depend on my training.”
Crowded by necessity, the already-tiny room shrunk around bloodied men lying on makeshift trauma tables. Teams of corpsmen huddled closely around their patients, pouring countless hours of knowledge and training into their efforts to stabilize them.
Pungent odors of latex, sweat and bodily fluids filled the cramped room. The stagnant air cooked it to an uncomfortable temperature, but the corpsmen’s focused vision and steady hands proved them unaffected by the challenging setting.
In the moment, Petty Officer 2nd Class Dustin Koch, the senior line corpsman with 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines’ Jump Platoon, said he didn’t even notice people hustling in and out of the room.
“We were just focused on the patients we had in front of us … it didn’t matter who they were or where they were from,” said Koch, a 26-year-old native of Las Cruces, N.M. “If we paid too much attention to everyone moving around us, we could risk losing focus on our patients and begin missing steps in treating them.”
Directed by their battalion surgeon, Navy Lt. Sean Stuart, team leaders worked with their two corpsmen to treat wounds, announce vital signs and determine priority of care. Recorders received the information and scratched it onto medical charts plastered on clipboards. Each team member kept their patients engaged by reassuring them through interpreters.
“Nothing is routine in a mass casualty situation,” said Stuart, a native of Sugar Hill, Ga. “Our corpsmen have learned medical basics, and practiced communication and mass casualty drills. We can absolutely prepare for this type of situation, but no matter how much we do, each has its own unique challenges.”
Once weather conditions improved, medevac helicopters arrived under the cover of darkness and transported six of the ANP casualties to Camp Dwyer’s Casualty Support Hospital for further treatment.
Despite the terrible circumstances requiring the employment of their skills, the 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines corpsmen were thankful for the opportunity to preserve the lives of their Afghan brethren.
“At the lower levels of leadership, it’s a challenge to understand the big picture changes happening in Afghanistan — like how we’ve helped the Afghan forces stand on their own,” Koch said. “This situation allowed us all to see the immediate difference we’ve made.”
Editor’s Note: Third Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibility within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.
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