JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
In December 2021, students in the Combat Medic Specialist Training Program, or CMSTP, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston’s U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence were the first in the program’s history to undergo training simulating nighttime combat conditions.
The nighttime simulated training was conducted Dec. 14-17 at the simulation lab at the Medical Education and Training Campus, or METC, located at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. The simulation is part of the 16-week training course conducted for Army combat medics, otherwise known as 68 Whiskey combat medic specialists.
Most of the 369 students, part of MEDCoE’s 232nd Medical Battalion, 32nd Medical Brigade, in the course participated in the simulation, which involved a chaotic, bloody scene at a Middle Eastern market square where an explosion occurred at night.
With gunfire and explosions in the background and blaring music playing, the student combat medics, wearing their gear, which included night-vision goggles, go about treating casualties laying around the square. Those casualties are simulated manikins of service members and civilians with traumatic injuries.
Capt. John Maitha, CMSTP Whiskey 3 team officer in charge, said students in the program already go through simulations mimicking a daytime explosion and attack in a market setting. He said the nighttime simulations will help prepare the combat medic specialists for combat scenarios they could encounter while deployed overseas.
“We’re just modifying what’s being taught slightly to better prepare troops for combat, giving them different scenarios and environments, making them think outside the box a little bit more,” Maitha said. “Doing something during the daytime and doing something at night is completely different.”
Teams of two to three students went through the simulations, which lasted 10 to 15 minutes, with each team having two simulations. Instructors shouted orders at the combat medic specialists, who had to assess and do interventions on the manikins, who are programmed to move and simulate breathing, bleeding and signs of shock and trauma.
“There are three different training scenarios,” Maitha said. “Basically all the casualties are in shock and they either have an airway problem, breathing problem or a hemorrhaging problem.”
The combat medic specialists going through the simulation also utilized their night vision goggles, the first time the students had worn them in training, to help them better assess and treat their casualties in the nearly pitch-dark market scene.
Maitha said the simulation helps instructors evaluate whether the students can utilize the skills they have learned in the course to perform life-saving interventions, known as a combat trauma lane or combat casualty assessment, while in a combat-related scenario.
“That’s how we validate a medic can perform his or her initial life-saving interventions before they graduate,” Maitha said.
Pfc. Connor Ignozzi, 232nd Medical Battalion combat medic specialist, said the nighttime simulations gave him a feeling of being in a real combat scenario.
“It was definitely an experience I don’t think I would be able to experience anywhere else,” Ignozzi said. “The overall pressure of the simulator scenario, there’s nothing you can compare to it other than doing the real thing. I mean we practiced. We go through the muscle memory, steps and everything, but once you get in there, it’s a whole different thing.”
Pfc. Katrina LaClair, 232nd Medical Battalion combat medic specialist, said working in a simulated nighttime combat environment compared to a daytime combat scenario was a bit of a challenge for her.
“You go in there and it’s hard to see exactly where specific wounds would be,” LaClair said. “They had the noise, gunshots and screaming and music and sirens to simulate real life. And on top of that, it’s our first time using night-vision goggles. Getting used to looking through that lens was a little bit challenging.
“You have to adapt as quickly as possible for everything,” LaClair added. “Count on your other senses like feeling, touch, and just knowing that our training will kind of lead us in the right direction, fall back on your training and know what you’re supposed to do.”
After completing their simulations, the students ended their training by going through a 72-hour culmination exercise at the Soldier Medic Training Site at JBSA-Camp Bullis. The combat medic specialists are scheduled to graduate Jan. 20.