TOLEMAIDA AIR BASE, Colombia - U.S. Army South personnel and 82nd Airborne Division medics joined Colombian military partners to conduct medical evacuation rehearsals July 24, preceding a combined Dynamic Force Employment airborne exercise at Tolemaida Air Base, Colombia.
The DFE airborne exercise, also known as Exercise Hidra II, is a six-day exercise involving jungle and water survival training, multiple airborne jumps and a field training exercise.
Capt. Heather Meier, the physician assistant for Army South’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, said the rehearsals were in preparation for combined medical operations in case a paratrooper is injured on the drop zone.
“We’re working on different patient loading methods on the available platforms we will have available for this exercise, one being the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, another being the civilian ambulance and then some utility vehicles that we have out here,” said Meier. “After we are done practicing our evacuation platform loading, we’re going to do some skills labs that will cover splinting, hemorrhaging control, and potentially traumatic brain injury training.”
The reason for this rehearsal was to ensure that Colombian and U.S. Army medics were on the same page in order to get patients evacuated from the drop zone and into a higher level of care.
Preparation for this medical rehearsal was conducted by Lt. Col. Lolito Ganal, Army South chief of medical operations. Ganal first visited Colombia back in May to assess Colombian medical capabilities and determine what medical assets would be needed to support the combined DFE airborne exercise.
Other than the language barrier, the main challenge was finding the proper level of care for a potential life threatening injury. Ganal found the hospital in Bogota would provide just that.
“Our primary hospital would be the main hospital in Bogota for care if we had to evacuate a patient,” said Ganal. “If we were to perform a rotary wing evacuation to Bogota, it's about a 25 minute flight.”
Challenges with organizing and planning this type of training rehearsal are far outweighed by its importance according to Maj. Eva Lucía Macías, bacteriologist and epidemiologist officer for the Colombian army. Macías is in charge of the operational health coordination for the rehearsal.
“The importance of this rehearsal is to share patient management skills between the U.S. and Colombian armies, where we can exchange and carry out patient care from scenarios with various levels of difficulty,” said Macías. “These exercises should be carried out more often in order to share all the knowledge we can give each other about our medical operations.”
Overall the planning and practice of this medical rehearsal was a successful display of interoperability. The exercise allowed both countries’ medical staff to gain new insight and experience on how each country operates while demonstrating the strong bond between the two nations.