The Camp Pendleton-based 1st Medical Battalion is preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. For one member, 67-year old Dr. (Navy Cmdr.) Bill Haggerson, this will be his 5th combat zone assignment since he felt compelled by his son's Army service in Iraq to return to active duty.
Thank you Dr. Haggerson and the entire 1st Medical Battalion. Our prayers are with you.
As artillery shells exploded in the background at Camp Pendleton on Wednesday morning, Dr. Bill Haggerson stood atop a crate and worked feverishly to find the source of an injured man's internal bleeding.
Haggerson worked on his patient, while other doctors, technicians and assistants moved about the operating table, providing whatever assistance was needed.
Except for explosions from a nearby artillery range, it was all just a drill.
Although Haggerson's work ---- and that of more than 100 other members from the base's 1st Medical Battalion ---- was performed on actors or realistic medical mannequins, in a few weeks, the patients they treat will be real.
Wednesday's exercises were the team's final tune-up before departing for Afghanistan in about 20 days.
For Haggerson, 67, a U.S. Navy captain and surgeon, the impending deployment is his fifth combat zone assignment, all as a volunteer with the medical team's "shock trauma platoon."
"There's no trauma hospital in the U.S. that sees these kinds of injuries," said Haggerson, who was a retired Navy commander when he said he was compelled by his son's U.S. Army service in Iraq to petition to return to active duty.
The Navy accepted his request, and he has performed hundreds of emergency surgeries during the subsequent deployments.
In nearby tents, more patients were being treated.
Mannequins representing a man and a baby were brought to the hospital, but declared dead on arrival. They were covered and placed outside one of the mobile surgical unit tents.
One of the perverse benefits from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been marked improvements in battlefield medicine, leading to the highest-ever survivability rate for wounded troops in U.S. war history.
In World War II, about 70 percent of wounded troops survived. Today, it's more than 97 percent for troops that reach an aid station before succumbing to blood loss or other severe injuries, according to military statistics.
Without the advancements that include better first-aid training for infantry troops, medical officials say legions of the nearly 50,000 troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan would have died.
Wednesday's drill was all about the unit coming together as a team, according to Navy Capt. James LeTexier, the medical battalion's commanding officer.
"The mock-up here today is what they will see when they go into theater," said LeTexier, referring to the military's term for a war zone. "What they are able to do together will mean the difference between success and failure, and success means lives are saved."
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