HELMAND PROVINCE, Now Zad, Afghanistan --
HELMAND PROVINCE, Now Zad, Afghanistan -- Corpsman Up! It’s a simple phrase used by Marines in combat to let corpsmen fighting alongside them know they need help, and FAST.
Since the Marines have been conducting counterinsurgency operations here, this call for help has pierced the air on more than one occasion.
As they take the fight to the insurgents on a near constant basis, the Marines of Company F, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan rely heavily on their Navy brethren.
Thankfully, they are equipped with some of the best corpsmen available.
The corpsmen attached to Fox Company are members of the task force’s Shock Trauma Platoon (STP). The STP is comprised of two medical doctors, two nurses, a physician assistant and 14 corpsmen chosen from various military units around the world. The STP specializes in providing trauma care on the scene, and Afghanistan’s austere environment has made it increasingly more challenging for the corpsmen to perform their duties. Nonetheless, the corpsmen serving here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom are committed to a common goal – saving lives and keeping Marines “in the fight.”
To fulfill its life-saving mission, the STP has implemented a new concept that has greatly enhanced its ability to provide more expedient medical care to the Marines serving on the frontlines. Because travelling a short distance to transport wounded Marines through the rocky and hilly terrain can literally take hours, the STP saw fit to create the Mobile Trauma Bay (MTB) to administer care faster.
Through the use of military equipment and medical materials made readily available, the “docs” are now better equipped to help Marines return to the fight.
“We took a flatbed 7-ton truck an ISO container and an AC unit, and turned it into a Mobile Trauma Bay that would rival any emergency room back in the states,” said Cmdr. James L. Hancock, STP senior medical officer and Illiopolis, Ill., native. “It’s hard to believe I wrote the idea down on a napkin and after a few phone calls with some contractors, had it built.”
Affectionately referred to as a “Doc-in-a-box,” the MTB is basically an E.R. (emergency room) on wheels. It is equipped with the medical equipment necessary for the STP to treat wounds that would normally be untreatable on the battlefield. It comes with equipment such as an ultrasound machine that helps the medical personnel locate shrapnel in the body. Among a long list of other medical equipment, the MTB also has an electrocardiogram that shows how the heart is functioning – critical for diagnostic procedures and evalutions; and a pulse-oximeter that shows oxygen saturation of arterial blood necessary to check for normal lung function in a patient.
“We bring advanced medical care to the fight,” said Navy Hospitalman 2nd Class Rudy R. Estrada, STP surgical technician and San Diego, Calif., native. “With the types of injuries we’re seeing, having the MTB with us is a huge asset. Having the advanced equipment so close to the fight has saved a lot of lives.”
A wounded Marine’s chance of survival is increased exponentially if they reach medical care within the first 60 minutes of the injury or what the docs refer to as the “golden hour.” The golden hour represents the time from the point of injury to the time the patient receives treatment.
“With the capabilities we have, we can extend the golden hour to several hours instead of just one,” Estrada explained. “One of the biggest things we bring to the fight is the psychological aspect. The Marines know that if they get injured, the doc is right over their shoulder like a guardian angel.”
Having the additional support of the MTB makes fighting with the enemy less stressful for Fox Company Marines because they know help is close by.
“When I first told my Marines where we were going, one of the first questions they asked was, ‘How far away will we be from medical facilities?’” said Capt. Ross Schellhaas, company commander and Meridian, Idaho native. “You saw a collective sigh of relief from all of the Marines as they realized we would have an E.R. doctor and his team of corpsmen so far forward with us.”
Pleased with the STP’s performance, the company commander said he felt proud to have the sailors serving with Fox Company Marines.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of folks that represent Navy medicine the way our STP has,” Capt. Schellhaas said. “We have several corpsmen out here that have earned multiple Purple Hearts for their efforts in trying to save Marines. The STP will do everything it can to help a Marine who’s down, even if that means putting themselves in harm’s way.”
Fox Company Marines understand the importance of having the STP with them because of the difficult situations the Marines have faced since deploying here in early April.
“The situations we get in here are more complex than a single corpsman can handle,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon W. Besendorfer, infantryman and Golden City, Mo., native. “You know if you get hurt, the STP will be there for you. That makes it a little easier going into combat knowing that they will do whatever they can to make sure you make it home.”