'Stronger together,' Israelis, U.S. complete historic medical exercise

HATZOR AIR BASE, Israel -- During a simulated life-or-death scenario, U.S. and Israeli medical teams completed a medical evacuation exercise May 20 throughout Israel.

The exercise -- held in conjunction with the missile defense-related Juniper Cobra 14 exercise -- simulated treating six patients and transporting them to an Israeli hospital and then airlifting them to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, depending on their condition.

"The Israelis have world-class health care, so we're not concerned about the quality of care-- that's indisputable," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Liana Vogel, U.S. Air Forces in Europe senior medical planner. "We're not here to test their ability to care for our service members; we're here to test our ability to work with them to see if we can keep track of our patients from the point of injury to the air evacuation to make sure that they are getting care in a timely manner."

Vogel added that tying the medical air evacuation to JC14 ultimately aided in fostering relationships between both countries, in advance of a potential real-world medical situation.
"We've got the opportunity with JC 14 to lay in a real world role playing patient exercise where we're physically moving patients," she said. "And that's unique to this exercise since most of [JC14] is command post-type exercise."

Within three minutes of the simulated car crash, U.S. medical teams arrived on the scene to check the vital signs of six casualties -- five soldiers donning bandages and sporting makeup and one electronic dummy complete with blinking eyes and a breathing function.

U.S. medics then made a call to Israeli Magen David Adom medics, donning a red Star of David on their ambulances and patches, to transport those victims with severe injuries to an Israel hospital. The MDA is a civilian medical organization similar to the American Red Cross.

"The Israelis will provide about 98 percent of the medical care that our Soldiers and Airmen would need should we come out here," Vogel said. "This is the first time in history that we're relying on a host nation to provide that level of care, that much care."

Upon the Israelis arriving, the scene of the accident turned into a mix of both nations' medics speaking in English and Hebrew all to check on the safety of those in need.

Medics then transported casualties from the crash site to Sheba Medical Center near Beer Sheba, Israel. The Israelis built the medical center in 1948 as a military treatment center during the country's war for independence.

"We consider the United States as our friend and ally for many years," said Jackie Orr, director of emergency medicine at Sheba Medical Center and a former flight surgeon in the Israeli Defense Force. "We are very experienced with drilling with the American forces. We have a mutual way of thinking at least while we're considering battle and military injuries. Unfortunately, Israel is more experienced in response to wars and terror attacks and non-natural disasters. I think that most of the doctors you've seen in this drill, if not all of them, are on reserve -- they used to be in the Israeli forces, but they are still serving. So they are very used to treating injured soldiers."

Sheba Medical Center, known as the premiere hospital of the country, accepts more than 180,000 admitted patients each year.

"It's very important for us to know their approach, and it's very important to us that they would be comfortable to see our abilities. And, of course, we will treat them as we are treating every patient who enters this department in high quality," Orr said. "We have done so but, above it, we have our emotional part of working together with the Americans. It's always a pleasure to see happy faces and always a pleasure to see professional staff who can speak the same language or terminologies to be sure that we understand each other and we are working along together."

To simulate the air evacuation element of the exercise, Israeli medics transported U.S. Army Private 1st Class James Black, a multi-channel radio operator maintainer assigned to the 44th Signal Battalion at Grafenwoehr, Germany, and Atlanta native, to the flightline of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft parked there to simulate transporting him to Landstuhl to be returned into U.S. care.

While no flight occurred for this scenario, Black said the combined effort from both nations' medics treated him as more than just a statistic to be tracked or an element to make history.

"They treated you like you were another person," Black said. "And, with the exception of the language, I didn't feel like I was in a foreign country."