USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD 6) --
Petty Officer 1st Class Terral B. Brew, Jr., hears “Nightingale 1-2-0,” over the ship’s P.A. system and he scurries to get his medical supplies while Marines make their way to the armory to withdraw their weapons.
At “Nightingale 6-0,” Brew makes his way to the ship’s hanger and stages his gear.
At “Nightingale 3-0,” he goes onto the ramp with a mass of others waiting to leave.
Finally at “Nightingale 1-5,” Brew boards an MV-22B Osprey on the flight deck to respond to a mass casualty evacuation drill Feb. 9 at the Central Training Area, Okinawa, Japan.
“The Nightingale team is a mass casualty evacuation contingency force,” said Brew, a hospital corpsman with Health Service Support Platoon, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “(Nightingale) is a worst-case scenario package, just in case something bad happens. We want to have a plan in place (to prepare) for a better outcome.”
Casualty evacuations have been executed several times during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Brew.
A team of corpsmen respond to assist the casualties, sometimes placing themselves in harm’s way to treat the wounded and evacuate them to an aid station. The goal is to quickly stabilize as many people as possible before sending them to a hospital or the ship for further treatment.
“With each team of Marines that goes out, either for battle or for training, there will always be a corpsman,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Free, a hospitalman from Monroe, Washington. “If there is ever a case where the number of casualties may overwhelm the medical team on the ground, the Nightingale team is available to respond quickly.”
Three parts make up a Nightingale team: an initial response team, a stabilization team and a security team.
The security team arrives first to set up a safe area for the medical team to work at. After the stabilization team arrives, the initial response team, along with Marines from the security team, makes their way to the casualties. They classify the injured by the severity of their wounds to determine the top priorities and then escort them to the stabilization team.
The stabilization team then prepares the casualties for transportation to a treatment center.
The Nightingale team is special to the MEU, especially in the Asia-Pacific region due to the higher probability of tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters, according to Brew.
“Being able to arrive on scene and assess, stabilize and clear the patient within a 30 minute window is ideal,” said Brew, a native of Colfax, Louisiana. “That is what we train for. We train to get in and do as much work as we can to be able to get them back into a more stable environment.”
The team prepares themselves for the worst case scenario in order to successfully perform their duties when presented with challenging circumstances or situations.
“We constantly perfect what we do in order for our skills to become second nature,” said Free. “If a situation was to present itself, we’d still be able to focus and get the job done.”
Every Nightingale simulation takes significant planning, coordination, and labor but each one builds the team’s capability to get those in need back safely.
“Marines have a lot of confidence in the corpsman,” said Brew. “There is reassurance knowing there is backup readily available in case something serious happens when one of their comrades are injured, that someone is there waiting on them to ensure they can make it back safely.”
The 31st MEU is the only constantly forward-deployed MEU in the Marine Corps and is currently conducting its Spring Patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.