Air Force combat medics serve critical role on PRT

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
  • Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs
Master Sgt. Simon Deyell stands in front of about 15 Soldiers and Airmen and tells a story of when he was on a dismounted patrol and some Afghans brought him a young boy with his head and shoulders covered in blood.

When Sergeant Deyell cleaned the blood off, he discovered the cause of the bleeding was just a small cut on the back of the boy's head - the incident goes to show how even minor head wounds can bleed profusely, he said.

Sergeant Deyell, deployed from Peterson AFB, Colo., is the NCO in charge of medical operations and the senior combat medic with the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team based here. Sergeant Deyell and fellow medics Senior Airman Jeffrey Marr and Staff Sgt. Nikolia Saunders recently provided Combat Lifesaver refresher training to about 50 of their teammates on the PRT.

Combat Lifesaver training is provided to most nonmedical Soldiers and Airmen before they deploy to Afghanistan - the course teaches advanced first aid and lifesaving procedures beyond the scope of the self-aid/buddy care skills taught to all servicemembers. The PRT rotation currently at Mehtar Lam has been in place since February, so this was a good time for refresher training, said Capt. Philip Hotchkiss, a physician assistant deployed from Tyndall AFB, Fla., and the PRT's senior medical officer.

"Unfortunately, these are perishable skills," Captain Hotchkiss said. "If you don't use them occasionally, you will either lose the skill completely or freeze when attempting to recall them during stressful situations. Therefore, during the summer months when kinetics in Afghanistan have traditionally heated up, we thought that a review would sharpen the skills of our warriors, to improve reaction times and save lives."

The medics serve in various capacities at their home stations - Sergeant Deyell is the NCOIC of Family Practice, while Airman Marr specializes in pediatrics - but while they are here, they are all considered combat medics.

As part of the training for this deployment, they attended a two-week course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, on what the Army calls Tactical Combat Casualty Care. The training focused on immediate actions to take if someone is injured on the battlefield - such as how to stop bleeding, treat a sucking chest wound, open someone's airway, or splint a fractured bone.

"It was basically a two-week trauma course on how to be self-sufficient without a provider around," said Airman Marr, who is deployed here from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

"In addition to the trauma training, the instructors also taught clinical aspects of care, such as various medications and what they're used for," Sergeant Deyell said. "They try to refine your skills and get you ready for what potentially could happen in theater."

The four-person medical section cares for more than 100 individuals on the PRT, and they also provide support to other units on the FOB, including Task Force Iron Gray and the Agribusiness Development Team. The medics spend much of their time treating people for ailments such as dehydration, skin problems, gastro-intestinal distress, communicable diseases, or orthopedic issues such as muscle, joint or back pain, they said.

At least one medic also goes on every PRT mission outside the wire - for Airman Marr and Sergeant Saunders that averages two or three trips a week. As the NCOIC, Sergeant Deyell manages the schedule and covers missions for the other medics when they have tower guard duty, go on their mid-tour leave, or when he gets "FOB fever," he said.

Airman Marr, who worked as a welder for three years before joining the Air Force, said he enjoys the camaraderie of going out on patrol and helping provide security alongside the Army security forces Soldiers that accompany every mission.

"In the field, the medics give the warriors they protect an additional dose of confidence," Captain Hotchkiss said. "Having their 'Doc' - the colloquial term the Army uses for combat medics - along on the mission gives the troops the reassurance that if something goes wrong and someone gets hurt, they will receive prompt and proper care."

In addition to treating U.S. and other International Security Assistance Force troops, the medics also sometimes have the opportunity to treat local nationals, as Sergeant Deyell did with the Afghan boy's head injury. "Our Air Force medics have been in high demand during this deployment not only by our own Soldiers and Airmen, but also by the local national population," Captain Hotchkiss said.

"They have been very compassionate in treating the Afghans," he said. "I'm really proud of the work our medics are doing here - they freely give of themselves day and night, seven days a week, without hesitation."

(Editor's note: Capt. Tristan Hinderliter is deployed from U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.)