Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Monique LaRouche
FORWARDING OPERATING BASE EDINBURGH, Afghanistan – The Shock Trauma Platoon and Forward Resuscitative Surgical Systems from Bravo Company, 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) on Forwarding Operating Base Edinburgh, Afghanistan, are more than just in the fight, they save the lives of the combat wounded any time of the day.
The STP is the smallest mobile medical support element of a medical battalion. They provide assistance to Regional Command Southwest including collecting, clearing and evacuating casualties. They provide resuscitative treatment care and temporary holding of casualties.
The 38 member team works around the clock and is equipped for medical evacuation emergencies. The team consists of enlisted and officer, doctors, nurses, surgeons, corpsmen, anesthesiologists and Marine security.
The basic medical center consists of an emergency room, two operating rooms, a lab and X-ray capability. The patients arrive via helicopter with a medical evacuation team from the battlefield.
The combat casualties consist of anything from gunshot wounds, scorpion bites, electrocutions and fragmentation from improvised explosive devices to anything else, said Lt. Cmdr. John Moore, officer in charge of the STP/FRSS.
Their mission is to provide medical care to troops in northern Helmand province, said Moore, a native of Memphis, Tenn.
In the remote location of FOB Edinburgh, the team provides surgical level care, damage control and care to trauma casualties including amputations if necessary. Since the STP is mobile, they are completely operational anywhere in the world, added Moore.
“Everyone has their responsibilities,” said Moore about their role on the team.
After lifesaving combat skills are given on the ground, Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces, or DUSTOFF, gives medical care in the air, and transports the rescued wounded to the STP/FRSS.
“The care given consists of cleaning all wounds, stopping massive bleeding, splinting all types of fractures, securing the airways and managing and controlling massive trauma to include blast injury and multiple amputees, gunshot wounds and basic head trauma,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Wright, a field medical corpsman at FOB Edinburgh, and a native of Loomis, Calif.
After the patient is stabilized, the patient is then moved via airlift to resuscitative care. If the patient is stable enough, the medical helicopters will fly the patient directly to a Role III hospital, said Wright.
The blood bank, a vital part of the STP, receives blood from the United States for blood transfusions. They have a walk-in blood bank which is open to anyone interested in donating blood, said medical lab technician, Petty Officer 2nd Class Melisa McCannell.
“We have not gotten so low in our inventory that we have had to take whole blood,” said McCannell, a native of Hallowell, Maine. McCannell is deployed to Afghanistan for her third time and is enjoying FOB Edinburgh.
“We have to have a step between the battlefield and the hospital,” said McCannell. “There are patients who come through here, and if they were to go straight to (Camp) Leatherneck, there may not have been enough time.”
“We have donors, like the Army and the Marines, who work here. We have them all come in and get prescreened. We draw blood from them, take samples and the results take about a month,” said McCannell. “In case of an emergency, like a mass causality, we can take blood from those patients and we know it is safe.”
Most patients who are seen at the STP are lower extremity amputations, said Petty Officer 1st Class Richard McFarland, surgical technician and the leading petty officer.
The vast majority of what they see are IED blasts and 95 percent are Afghans, said McFarland, a native of Monterey, Calif., on his second tour to Afghanistan.
The STP/FRSS treats everyone from Marines, Afghan National Army, Afghan Police, local nationals, children and even on some occasions, insurgents.
“All patients are treated equally,” said Moore.
Because the STP staff members experience trauma firsthand, taking care of themselves is detrimental to their well being. Their first day on the job, the new team treated nine patients who came through the door and two were dead on arrival, said McFarland.
Most of the members are gaining experience with new types of injuries they have never witnessed previously including amputees and IED blasts to small children, said McFarland.
Although their training is specific, nothing can really prepare them for what they will see in a war zone. Most of the crew is not used to experiencing traumas such as gunshot wounds or amputees in the United States, but it is common out here, said McFarland.
Doing physical exercise in this environment is vital to maintaining balance, said McFarland.
“It is a good outlet to blow off steam. Some of them are seeing things they have never seen before,” he said.
Along with physical exercise, the combat stress team is used for extra support to help the teams with any questions or concerns they may have concerning their own mental health.
The combat stress team from RC (SW) located at Camp Leatherneck visits FOB Edinburgh and takes care of anyone who needs help with combat stress, said Seaman Connor Rezac, a patient care provider.
“Observing and keeping an eye out for any warning signs,” said Rezac, a native of Gilbert, Ariz. “Combat stress affects anyone, no matter where you are.”
Post traumatic stress disorder is a natural reaction to an unnatural event.
“There are people who see a lot of horrible things,” said Rezac. “We want to make our presence known, that we are there for them. If we need to come out and visit, wherever you are, we have someone on call 24 hours a day, every day. In any case of emergency, there is always someone there. We want to spread out support as far as we can go because not everyone can make it to the clinic.”
Keeping members in the fight and at full speed is one of the main objectives of the combat stress team, said Lt. Brian Foley, a psychiatrist for the team.
Foley explained that his job is rewarding, seeing guys get better and getting back into the fight. Some of the ways the combat stress team helps is by doing simple interventions like relaxation techniques, deep breathing and some simple medications.
“The bulk of the service members out here seem motivated to get back into the fight, so it is encouraging to see them a couple times and help them through their problems and they move forward,” Foley said.
The combat stress team at Camp Leatherneck has a 98 percent return rate.
A huge piece of mental health is the environment and command structure, explained Foley, a native of Mentor, Ohio. Some branches of services are seen more than others, and the Marines have a high success with morale.
He said he sees success in units that have good unit cohesion and good leadership. Units that have high morale and work together as a team are seen less at the combat stress clinics.
Most of the issues Foley and his team face will be back in the rear, when the troops are home. His experience of knowing what the environment is like will be helpful to those who were here, he said. “Having been here makes you more credible,” said Foley.
Polishing his skills and using different types of therapies will be beneficial to those he will help stateside.
Although the STP/FRSS and DUSTOFF appreciate their time to reset, when the call for help comes in on the radio and the bell rings, both crews come together seamlessly.
The staff at the STP are grateful to DUSTOFF, they would not be able to do their job without them, said McFarland.
DUSTOFF would not be able to do their job without the STP either. They work hand in hand and neither crew will take credit for the other, for they know they would be lost in the fight without the teamwork.
“We cannot do our mission without the STP,” said Sgt. Troy Hayes, a flight medic with the Army National Guard.
There is a paradox in his job, explained Hayes, a flight paramedic for the Arizona State Police. “When we go do our job, somebody is having a bad day,” said Hayes, a native of Tucson, Ariz.
Their jobs are emotional, but all members of the crew must be onboard.
Since DUSTOFF is a major part of getting the wounded out of the battlespace, off the ground and into the air during the golden hour, they must be on their game 100 percent of the time.
The crew of 22, which consists of pilots, medics, nurses and helicopter maintainers, who are all from the Army National Guard from New Mexico, Arizona and Minnesota, is spot on and have become family.
DUSTOFF faces many challenges in the air and on the ground. They live up to their name and carry the proud tradition of ‘Until I have your wounded.’
“The risk is worth the reward,” said Sgt. Zachary Menzie, a flight medic for DUSTOFF and a native of Albuquerque, N.M.
Sometimes they cannot save all of their casualties and combat death is the hardest part, explained Hayes.
“It is really painful,” said Hayes. “Getting them some place to be taken care of.”
Although the job can be tough, STP and DUSTOFF members know this is their job and take the challenge of the mission. They know the Marines are out there fighting for freedom and will be there for them no matter what.