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Combat corpsmen prepare for the fight

8 Mar 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Call it Lifesaving 101, but a makeshift classroom along the side of a runway gave Navy corpsmen essential skills they might need to keep Marines alive.

Twenty-five Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based corpsmen from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, learned skills which will enable them to quickly and safely perform a casualty evacuation using a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.  The unit's corpsmen practiced the drill before moving into Iraq with the 1st Marine Division for security and stabilization operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

"It's absolutely necessary we get this training before we move into a hostile environment.  In case we get hit on our way into Iraq, we need to know how to load a casualty into one of the Blackhawks," said Navy Seaman Gary. D. Williams, Jr., a corpsman with the unit.
Marine units moving into Iraq relied on Army air assets already in the zone.  This meant that if units received casualties, Army helicopters would respond instead of Marine aircraft. 

"If these corpsmen need to call in for a medical evacuation in Iraq, it'll probably be the Blackhawk that responds," said Army Sgt. Robert L. Shearer, a medic with the 1022 Medevac Company, a National Guard unit based out of Cheyenne, Wyo.  Shearer, a paramedic and flight nurse in his civilian life said,  "There are a few differences between the Blackhawks and the (UH-1N) Huey helicopters that the corpsmen are used to working with."

Shearer explained that safety - even under the toughest conditions - is a corpsman's top priority.  The worst that could happen would be if a corpsman were injured along with his patient because he wasn't aware of his surroundings.

"We're getting these corpsmen used to working with the aircraft, so they'll have some familiarity with it if they have to call in a medevac out in the field," Shearer explained.  "We use hand signals and a procedure for loading casualties in the Army that these Navy corpsmen need to learn."

Part of that procedure is always approaching the Blackhawk from the side, a method the corpsmen aren't used to doing with the Hueys.  Shearer said the rotors on a Blackhawk could seriously injure someone approaching from the front, which is why Navy medics learn now how to properly work around a Blackhawk.  Corpsmen got a first-hand account, however, of the advantages Army Blackhawks bring to the Marines.

"The Blackhawks can carry more patients, travel up to 180 knots as opposed to the Huey's 90 knots," Shearer said. "We have full cardiac and trauma treatment capabilities aboard these helicopters. 

It's this reason the Blackhawks would be a better tool for getting casualties out of the danger area and off to treatment, he added.

The corpsmen who learned the skills agreed the methods they learned for working with the helicopters could save lives.

"The faster we can get a casualty from the front line to the first echelon of care in the rear increases the chances he'll live," Williams said.  "This training helped us gain that much more of an edge."