Grissom Air Reserve Base — Outside a small southern Indiana town, 41 soldiers lay wounded and dying.
Military helicopters carrying medical teams swarmed the area, evacuating the victims and picking up and treating the injured.
But the scene wasn’t a war zone. It was an intense simulation staged by the Army National Guard to prepare helicopter-based medical evacuation units for deployment overseas.
And for the last week, similar scenes have turned Indiana into an imaginary combat zone for the 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion Medevac unit training at Grissom Air Reserve Base.
More than 130 Guardsmen flying up to 12 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters are using the base as their home station to learn the ins and outs of treating and transporting wounded soldiers before deployment to southwest Asia this fall.
For Sergeant Scott Darrall, who served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, the “mass casualty” war zone scenario was one of the most intense simulations the unit performed.
“It was a pretty stressful event, but we came together well,” he said. “It actually went pretty smooth.”
But not every training scenario is so fierce. The unit also conducts eight to 15 daily missions aimed at buffing up skills in areas like flight operations, aircraft maintenance, medical treatment, logistics, communications and ground refueling.
“We try to replicate what the guys are going to see when they go out into the field,” said Major Bryon Blohm, commander of the battalion.
He said the medical evacuation unit is like the Army’s 911, providing air ambulances that offer enroute care to wounded soldiers. Often, the high-level treatment troops receive in the helicopters is the difference between life and death, he said.
Each Black Hawk houses one medic, one crew chief and two pilots. The helicopters have enough space for three stable, walking wounded soldiers and two litters for critical patients.
In the rear, a medical suite houses bandages, tourniquets, IV solutions, heart-rate and vital-care monitors and sled-like skids that can be lowered into battle areas if the unit is unable to land.
For Darrall, the fact that medics must treat soldiers while buzzing through the air 160 mph is the defining difference between offering medical assistance on the ground versus tending wounds in a helicopter.
“It’s very much of a challenge,” he said. “Trying to stick an IV into someone who’s moving around inside a cramped space is much different than sticking someone laying on a cot in a hospital.”
The more profound challenge, however, is knowing you’re the only medic available to care for someone who’s life may hang in the balance, Darrall said.
“On the ground, you have other medics to help you out. But on the helicopter, you’re it,” he said. “Everybody’s counting on you. You keep that thought in the back of you’re head, ‘don’t screw up.’”
Blohm said that’s the reason the sometimes grueling training is so critical for the unit – soldiers need to know exactly what to do to ensure efficient and effective care for patients in every situation.
Although Darrall and the 2-238 battalion has previously served in war zones, he said the simulations are necessary to keep them sharp and slick.
“You always learn something new everyday, but a lot it is just knocking out the cobwebs and refreshing your memory. ... But we still train and train and train so we don’t even have to think about it. It needs to become muscle memory,” he said.
The battalion will remain stationed at Grissom and continue missions across Indiana until May 3.
Blohm said the facility is a great place to cross train with the Air Reserve and learn how to cooperate with a different military branch - a necessary lesson, since they’ll work together during their deployment in Asia.
“This is a great opportunity to get out into a new environment,” he said. “And to have these kinds of facilities and the staff support at Grissom has been tremendous.”
• Carson Gerber, Tribune reporter, may be reached by calling 765-854-6739 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.