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Westover medics team up for joint field exercise

Two Marine ambulance drivers (left) and civilian medical volunteers watch a Rhode Island Army National Guard helicopter lift off from Dogpatch training area. The exercise combined the elements of military and civilian medical technicians in real-world accident scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Tom Allocco)

Two Marine ambulance drivers (left) and civilian medical volunteers watch a Rhode Island Army National Guard helicopter lift off from Dogpatch training area. The exercise combined the elements of military and civilian medical technicians in real-world accident scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Tom Allocco)

A Rhode Island Army National Guard Huey aircraft member (foreground) and a Marine ambulance driver prepare Civil Air Patrol volunteers for a simulated airlift from the scene of a mock disaster in the Dogpatch training area here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Tom Allocco)

A Rhode Island Army National Guard Huey aircraft member (foreground) and a Marine ambulance driver prepare Civil Air Patrol volunteers for a simulated airlift from the scene of a mock disaster in the Dogpatch training area here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Tom Allocco)

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- Once a year, Westover's Team Yankee medical exercise brings together good people and makes them even better.

Team Yankee 2006, the premier New England joint military and civilian medical exercise, assembled teams of highly-experienced medical specialists and ran them through a mass casualty scenario that could have been a replay of operations in New York, New Orleans or Southwest Asia. A sizable number of the military and civilians had already done it in the real world but came to Team Yankee to better learn to speak each others' language.

"It's important that we understand each other. In the event of another Katrina, we have to work together. We learn their system, and they learn ours," said Navy Capt. Karolyn Ryan, officer in charge of the exercise.

Over a three-day period, Air Force, Navy, Army, Marine and civilian medical specialists cross-trained to respond to a natural disaster compounded by a terror attack. The heart of the exercise was the evacuation of casualties from Dogpatch to the Base Hangar following flooding and power-grid sabotage.

On Friday before the May B UTA, the Team Yankee exercise started with the practice loading of a civilian truck by aerial porters on a C-5 and continued to closing ceremonies on Sunday in Dogpatch.

Never since the exercises began in 1989 have participants brought more real world experience to Team Yankee. Military veterans of Iraqi and Enduring Freedom and Katrina teamed up with medical specialists of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team Mass 2, (DMAT) sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, who have served federalized tours in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than half the DMAT medical specialists had been at ground zero at the World Trade Center shortly after the Sept. 11 attack.

"We were uniquely qualified for Katrina," said Robert Hopkins of DMAT.

The team, which falls under Homeland Security, deployed to Louis Armstrong Airport, New Orleans, off-loaded helicopters, stabilized patients and worked with military medical specialists to evacuate victims.

"Because of our Team Yankee training and our familiarity with military aircraft procedures, there was not a single patient mishap. We understood flight-line safety, litter-bearing, patient off-loading, hot-loads. This was the only DMAT team that had experience with military transportation.

"We trained other DMAT teams," Mr. Hopkins said.

Lending a sense of urgency to Team Yankee 2006 was the looming hurricane season. The medical exercise kicked off less than two weeks before the official June 1 start of hurricane season and a few days before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecast of four to six major hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

"We're doing exactly what we're suppose to be doing if anything happens," said Tech. Sgt. Mary Grasso, 439th Aeromedical Staging Squadron health services management craftsman, who helped evacuate American and Coalition casualties during an Air Expeditionary Force mission in Southwest Asia in 2003-04.

"This is something we may be doing this year. We don't know. We want to learn what's wrong now. We don't want to learn what's wrong when it's too late," she said.

Team Yankee 2006 challenged participants with the unique scenario of massive casualties caused by a combined terrorist attack and a natural disaster causing flooding.

Civil Air Patrol cadets, Young Marines and Boy Scouts played the role of casualties who received initial first aid in Dogpatch. Many Team Yankee participants spent two nights in tents in the field.

Services members were up before sunrise preparing breakfast on a Mobile Kitchen Trailer for everyone.
"Anytime we can go to the field, we're better off … good stick time," said Maj. Patrick L. Dufraine, commander of the 439th Services Squadron.

The scenario called for evacuation by a Rhode Island Air Guard Huey and a West Virginia Air Guard C-130 to a Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF) set up by the 439th ASTS in the Base Hangar. Adding reality to the scenario was the buzz of a Civil Air Patrol Cessna over Dogpatch.

Simulated command and control was provided by Master Sgt. Bill Forbes, 439th ASTS medical services manager, who was at the center of TRAC2ES (Transcom Regulating and Command and Control Evacuation System). The Web-based program linked to Scott AFB, Ill., gives Sergeant Forbes the ability to schedule aircraft, maintain medical records and track a patient's every move from battlefield to stateside hospital.

Sergeant Forbes brought to Team Yankee his experience operating TRAC2ES at Ramstein AB, Germany, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. ASTS medical specialists served much of that year at Ramstein when 14,000 patients moved through Landstuhl Medical Center back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Team Yankee contributed to the evaluation and development of TRAC2ES when it was live tested during an exercise in the 1990s.

The experience of previous Team Yankees has paid off in many ways. When Maj. Robert Rostedt, 439th ASTS critical care nurse, wrote back to his unit from a recent deployment to Balad Air Base, Iraq, he noted the applications of past Team Yankee exercises to his wartime experiences with everything from the "NATO gurney"¬—a gurney with wheels to roll onto aircraft—to an old fashioned fold-up administrator's desk.

"Everything we trained to do in Team Yankee he used in Balad, and he has been able to train other people," said Lt. Col. Margaret Lewis Schoenemann, 439th ASTS chief nurse.

"We have had a high percentage deployed, and yet a lot of people are seeing this for the first time. We are able to match up the first timers with people who have actually deployed, and that helps the training," she said.

"This is tough, but these are resilient people. This is our people at their very best," said Senior Master Sgt. Michelle M. Dunfield, 439th ASTS first sergeant.