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MWSS-273 corpsmen prepare for Iraq

By Pfc. Jason D. Mills | | June 23, 2006

The corpsmen of Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 are refining their skills in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Iraq later this year.

The corpsmen of MWSS-273 held mass casualty drills during Desert Talon at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., in order to assess the proficiency of all medical personnel.

A mass casualty is any medical emergency where the number of casualties outnumbers the total number of corpsmen that are assigned to that unit, or any medical emergency where the total number of victims is more then five, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Barnhart, the independent duty corpsman for MWSS-273.

“The mass casualty drills are an exercise that we do in order to prepare for a large-scale medical emergency,” said Navy Lt. Katherine Wayman, the senior medical officer for MWSS-273.

The mass casualty drill encompasses many facets of MWSS-273, from the corpsmen themselves to all of the different administration shops.

“We have everyone from the doctors themselves to all of the S-1 shops,” said Chief Petty Officer Matthew Sobolewski, the leading chief petty officer for MWSS-273. “All of our docs and corpsmen participate as well as Marines for the simulated casualties. Marines also will provide security and the medical evacuation recourses.”

Days of planning goes into each drill, according to Barnhart. From the initial meeting all the way through the final debrief everyone pitches in to thoroughly prepare for the drills.

“We try and get the Marines involved in the exercise so they can see how they will be involved in a real life emergency,” Barnhart said.

One reason that each drill takes so long to plan is because no two drills are the same, according to Barnhart.

“We have different levels of drills,” Barnhart said. “We try and have more casualties each time so we can assess the proficiency of all of our medical personal and refine our skills and point out our weak points.”

Although each drill is different, all of the drills have one focus: to prepare the corpsmen for what they may see in Iraq.

“Every war has its own type of casualties, so we are trying to train for what we are seeing over in Iraq and that is mainly improvised explosive devices,” Barnhart said.

Another common strand between all the scenarios is that all the simulated wounds should be as realistic as possible without actually being the real thing, according to Wayman.

“We use moulage kits, which are basically high-tech make up kits,” Wayman said. “We try and come as close to the real thing without actually hurting the Marines who are playing the victims.”

For the corpsmen of MWSS-273 each training exercise comes as a solemn reminder of what may be to come when they go to Iraq and even though the training is necessary hopes are high that their skills will never have to be put to use for the real thing.

“For a lot of our junior corpsmen this will be their first experience out in Iraq and with this training they seem to pick up what they need to really fast,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Henry, one of the pharmacy technicians for MWSS-273.