Okinawa Marines learn how to save lives on the battlefield using dummies that talk, groan and bleed
By CARLOS M. VAZQUEZ II | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 12, 2019
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — Marines in tactical gear moved through a smoke-filled room Thursday, ignoring flashing lights and overwhelming noise to find and treat their wounded comrades.
It was just a simulation in a room staged to look like a market somewhere in the Middle East, but for members of III Marine Expeditionary Force it served as a chance to test their combat lifesaving skills.
“This is to give them more comfort in medical interventions, so if there is a mass casualty and a corpsman is unavailable, they can start medical procedures to take care of an individual,” said Seaman Phillip Decoma, a Tactical Combat Casualty Care instructor with 3rd Medical Battalion.
Marines and sailors in occupational specialties most likely to find themselves in a firefight or other life-threatening situations are required by the Defense Department to take the role-based training every year.
Navy corpsmen and civilian instructors hold the three-day course at the Medical Skills Training Center and at scenario-based locations at Camp Hansen and Camp Foster. Up to 25 students meet weekly in classrooms and take part in simulations to expand their ability to administer care while under fire.
Although Marines are taught basic first-aid in boot camp, the Marine Corps does not have medical professionals of its own. The Corps relies instead on Navy hospital corpsmen who embed with the Marines and tend to injuries, big and small, sustained on the battlefield.
However, a corpsman is not always immediately available.
“This course is a training safety net if there are any environments that we have to go into military actions,” Decoma said. “It’s the medical providing that allows every member to go out with some safety, and that safety is what enables us to move comfortably out there.”
Throughout the course, students learn to use tourniquets, make airways through the nose and place chest seals on gunshot wounds on simulated casualty dummies that can speak, groan and bleed on the command of an instructor using a tablet.
In the market-themed simulation room, the students collectively searched for dummies scattered throughout three sections. The students treated the simulated casualties using a systematic approach embodied in the acronym MARCH: respond to major hemorrhaging, assess airways, respiratory observation, circulation checks and a head-to-toe assessment of the patient.
“This course is more intensive and thorough,” said Lance Cpl. Abigail Kessler, a student assigned to the 3rd Marine Division. “I now have a greater understanding of the human body; we are taught to deal with saving another person’s life in a stressful situation and it truly breaks down a good process of what is going to save your life, and helping them after that.”
In the final scenario, students breach and clear the smoke-filled simulation room with props scattered throughout — loud music blaring and bright lights flickering — to find the simulated casualties and perform the life-saving techniques they learned under stress.
Kessler said that going through the course and receiving the knowledge passed down by the corpsmen made her feel more effective as a Marine.
“No matter what situation you find yourself in, be willing to take action on it,” she said, “don’t freeze up, don’t panic, just go and do absolutely what you can,”