CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, OKINAWA, Japan --
Marines and Sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, supported by Marines of Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, both of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted mass casualty training here Aug. 31.
The call-sign for the mass casualty response team is “Nightingale,” and 43 Marines and Sailors participated in the training event.
“The nightingale mission is a specific skill set of the CLB,” said 2nd Lt. Elizabeth Harrington, mission commander, CLB-31. “We have very capable medical assets with our battalion for such a purpose, and we are training for an event where mass casualties might need to be evacuated.”
The training is being held as part of preparation for CLB-31’s deployment to the Asia-Pacific region with the 31st MEU.
“So far so good,” said Harrington. “This is the first day of implementing everything, and the Marines are very motivated. The planning has been pretty detailed, and we’ve increased the numbers of casualties and people on the team which makes it more challenging.”
One of the focuses of the training was maintaining positive communications despite a very complex, noisy environment said Harrington.
CH-46 helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU dropped wave after wave of Marines and Sailors on the ground, all of whom rushed to their assigned tasks in order to rescue as many of the mock casualties as possible.
“Exercising the inter-communication and integration between the security force on the ground, the initial response team and mass-casualty team is important,” said Maj. Foster Ferguson, CLB-31 executive officer. “It is key to making this run as smoothly as possible in order to save lives.”
The first Marines on the ground were from Kilo Battery, BLT 2/7, 31st MEU, and they provided security around the scene of a mock mortar attack.
Next to arrive was an initial medical team, who assisted by triaging and determining which patients required evacuation.
Finally, the mass casualty response team, along with U.S .Navy doctors, arrived to treat the patients and get them appropriate care as quickly as possible.
Marty Klotz, the II MEF Special Operations Training Group stability officer, was on hand to assist with training and offer advice.
III MEF SOTG coordinated Klotz's presence in order to have an expert on mass casualty situations lead the training, said Lt. Col. William Arick, commanding officer, CLB-31.
“The mass casualty situation has been a MEU certification requirement since the bombing in Beruit," said Klotz. “The scenario for today’s event was that a unit was patrolling and was intermingled with civilians when they were hit by several mortars. So we have a mixture of civilian casualties and military casualties to deal with. They have to decide how to best deal with situations such as that.”
It is important to plan for the transport and care of local nations along with members of your own unit, Klotz pointed out. It is not as easy as just deciding to evacuate everyone.
“There is a lot of talent and a lot of good leadership here,” said Klotz. “To be good at anything you have to practice, so that is what they are working on today. They are right where they need to be.”
A mass casualty response is designed to deal with 50 or more casualties. Dealing with that many casualties at one time requires good teamwork. For this exercise, CLB-31 teamed up with BLT 2/7 to secure the site.
“This is good training, good for the CLB to get out here,” said Cpl. James Ramirez, a security team leader with Kilo Battery, BLT 2/7. “It looks like they are doing good and getting the casualties out of here in a timely manner. The team is very professional and this is good practice.”
The number of casualties is not unrealistic, as Marines in years past have encountered these types of situations.
“We are trying to teach them how to deal with a situation with a whole lot of casualties such as an embassy bombing or the Beirut attack,” said Klotz. “It is one of those capabilities that you want to have ready to go, but you hope you never have to use.”
A mass casualty event could happen in any scenario, from a combat situation to a humanitarian assistance to even a community relations event.
“The most important part of this training is you need people to act calmly in a really chaotic scenario,” said Harrington. “No matter how much you train, it is going to be chaotic. We have been working on communication, understanding and working with each other to overcome that.”
The Marines and Sailors of CLB-31 and BLT 2/7 got the mission accomplished and at the end of the training, all the casualties had successfully been aided and evacuated.
“I never was involved with a mass casualty drill before, so this is good training,” said Seaman Korie Gaumer, hospitalman, of CLB-31. “Untrained people run around all chaotic, so to have a plan and be organized makes things much smoother. I am hoping that something this bad would never really happen but I am glad to know that we are ready if it did. We are training for the worst but hoping for the best.”
The 31st MEU is the nations’ expeditionary force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.