31st MEU’s ‘Nightingale Team’ trains to respond to emergencies
CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — Marines here Monday encountered something in a drill that’s an everyday reality in Iraq and other war zones.
The scenario: An improvised explosive device went off, hitting a convoy of Marine vehicles and injuring several troops. Moments later, insurgents opened fire on the Marines, riddling several more with bullets.
Within minutes, two helicopters — a CH-53 and CH-46 — swooped from the sky carrying help. Marines quickly shuffled off the helicopters and secured the area. After one Marine checked the bodies of the injured for booby traps, he signaled in the medical team. Running to the wounded carrying stretchers and bags of medical equipment, the team quickly assessed patients and began treatment.
While the event was only a drill, it was designed to test the response of the “Nightingale Team” from the Health Services Support Platoon of MEU Service Support Group 31, part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The team is made up of 12 servicemembers: one Navy physician, seven corpsmen and four Marines who provide landing support, communications and security, said Navy Lt. Vincent Grimm, Health Services Support Platoon commander.
Grimm said the team’s primary role is to be “sent in where something happened that overwhelmed the medical team on the scene.” He said the team can deploy within minutes and travel via any mode of transportation.
Once team members arrive on scene, Grimm said, the Marines set up a perimeter and secure the area, including checking the injured for booby traps. Once the medical personnel get the signal to enter the area, Grimm said, they perform as much triage as possible — including on enemy combatants, if necessary — categorizing the patients.
“A big part of the training is assessing the injured … did they find all the exit wounds, did they categorize correctly,” he said.
The team then must move the patients to the waiting transportation — in Monday’s case, the helicopters. Petty Officer 2nd Class James Hill, a veteran on the team who observed Monday’s drill, said that’s an area the team will have to work on.
“When they got to the patients they did great … a really good job,” he said. “They spread out, one corpsman per patient. Didn’t miss any wounds and started treating everybody’s wounds and did their secondary assessments. But we need to work on loading them.”
Grimm agreed that the corpsmen did well, especially since many are new to the Navy and Monday was their first time around helicopters.
Even though the exercise could have gone more smoothly, Hill said, “that’s what we’re here for, to get them trained up.”
Grimm said leaders would review the exercise with the team, including what areas need work. He said the exercise will be repeated in several weeks to provide more experience.
“Overall, this was good initial training for the whole team,” he said. “Now we’ll just keep going with it.”