For Marines on the battlefield, urgent care is just a call away
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - A four-vehicle convoy travels along the barren desert when the first vehicle is suddenly struck by an improvised explosive device. A Marine in the first vehicle is hit in the face by shrapnel. A Navy corpsman riding in the third vehicle jumps out and pulls the injured Marine from the vehicle and rushes to assess his injuries. The convoy commander immediately radios for a medical evacuation.
"It’s not like time stops; it’s not like in the movies where everything is going slow," said Hospital Corpsman First Class David Eldridge, an ambulance dispatcher for 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "That patient that you’re with, you build a brotherhood. You do everything in your capability to keep them alive."
Marines and sailors on the battlefield face these kinds of situations every day. However, they can take comfort in knowing the best care possible is just a radio call away.
When a Marine has been wounded, a medical evacuation request from the ground is sent to the Tactical Air Command Center, which is the principal air operations director for 3rd MAW (Fwd). The request is reviewed by the senior watch officer who assesses the situation.
"After receiving the MEDEVAC request, we quickly determine which aviation asset is best suited for the mission, based upon the injuries and location of the patient. We then direct the launch of medically equipped and staffed helicopters, which are airborne in minutes," said Lt. Col. William W. Hooper, a Senior Watch Officer for 3rd MAW (Fwd.) and a native of Philadelphia.
While a Navy corpsman helps sustain the injured warrior on the ground, help from coalition forces comes in from the air.
One of the most advanced medical assets is a modified CH-47 helicopter, which is available to 3rd MAW (Fwd.) but part of the United Kingdom’s Task Force Jaguar. The helicopter carries a critical care physician and nurse, several emergency medical technicians and its own protective force. Hooper explained that it is like bringing a flying emergency room to the casualty. The asset is used in the most serious of cases, such as head injuries, serious gunshot wounds and amputees because when Marines are injured, time is of the essence.
"We work under the premise of ‘the golden hour,’ he said. "That means that from the time we get the call for an urgent MEDEVAC, we can have the injured service member in a medical treatment facility, in the hands of a surgeon, in less than 60 minutes."
Located in the southwest region of Afghanistan is a medical facility that boasts a 98 percent survival rate for critically injured service members. This rate is based on data pulled from the hospital’s Assigned Trauma Nurse Coordinators (Combined/Joint U.K./U.S. Nurses who collect and analyze trauma injury data).
Known to some simply as ‘Role 3,’ the code for the top echelon of medical care provided, the Bastion Hospital is the only one of its kind in Regional Command Southwest and one of three in the entire country. These hospitals are staffed with a variety of medical specialists ranging from intensive care doctors to radiologists and surgeons.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Lindsay, the officer-in-charge for the U.S. contingent at the hospital, said Role 2 hospitals can stabilize patients and perform limited surgeries, but Role 3 hospitals are equipped for any situation that may arise.
"It’s beyond science fiction what they can do there," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Martens, the wing surgeon for 3rd MAW (Fwd) and a native of Belchertown, Mass. "The medical care given at Bastion is [among] the best in the history of warfare when it comes to warrior survivability."
Martens said the advanced medical equipment, the manner in which patients arrive, and the cohesion between service members of different nations facilitates the high rate of survivability.
"[The doctors] get double or triple amputees," Martens said. "They’re saving people who might not be able to be saved back in the states. Stateside trauma bays just aren’t used to that level of stress."
"The equipment we have here, most hospitals back home don’t have this kind of stuff," said Lindsay, a native of Sherburne, N.Y. "Only your university medical schools, Department of Defense medical facilities and a very few others have this kind of equipment. Other than that, most hospitals have equipment that is a generation or two behind."
"Everything here is integrated at every level," he added.
The unique integration between nations is one reason the hospital does so well, Lindsay said.
"There is no definitive line where it’s ‘this is what the Americans do, and this is what the Brits do, and the Danes do this.’ Everything is done as a team and it works really well here."
Lindsay said while the hospital is the busiest in theater, the statistics prove just how well 3rd MAW (Fwd) responds to calls for help and how doctors and nurses save lives.