Okinawa medical battalion a crucial link between battlefield and hospital
By CARLOS M. VAZQUEZ II | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 4, 2018
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Between the battlefield and a hospital lies a critical stage of care for a wounded sailor or Marine.
That’s the job of 3rd Medical Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, which displayed its ability to quickly erect a self-sustaining mobile trauma and surgical unit close to the fighting during a recent three-day exercise.
A battalion team of about 60 members pieced together eight interconnecting tents and stocked them with medical equipment — an operating room, portable X-ray machine, blood-banking capabilities and space for 20 beds — in less than four hours. The facility must then be able to receive casualties within an hour of the battalion team arriving on site, battalion commander Capt. Ronald L. Schoonover told Stars and Stripes.
“It’s very important to have a dedicated team to get patients somewhere they can be treated, stabilized and sent back home,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Parks.
The late-November exercise not only provided the battalion team — one of eight — an opportunity to practice its skills but also put those skills on display for other servicemembers.
“Our job is to deploy with the Marines and sailors of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force,” Schoonover said. “The more medical capability you can push forward decreases morbidity and mortality.”
Each team consists of emergency room-trained doctors, nurses, an anesthesiologist, physician assistants and hospital corpsmen. The facility is a type called Role 2, the second of four levels of medical care that starts with a corpsman on the battlefield and progresses to a hospital somewhere far from the conflict.
“It’s all about capabilities and supplies,” Parks said. “The Role 1 that goes right along with combat units can only sustain patients for 12 to 24 hours before they run out of equipment.”
In Role 2, 3rd Battalion provides urgent, intermediate care for wounded servicemembers that includes resuscitation and damage-control surgery before they reach a hospital, which is Role 3.
“We are here to perform emergency medical and surgical procedures that, if not performed, could lead to loss of life, limb or eyesight,” Schoonover said.
The teams must be ready to receive casualties in an hour or less, starting with the shock trauma system. All other components are built around a process developed and improved with experience.
Schoonover, who has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he feels reassured when he hears that sailors and Marines who have been through a Role 2, whether in battle or through exercises like this one, understand battalion capabilities.
“It gives leaders the impetus to send their sailors and Marines into battle because they know if they get injured, we’re going to take care of them,” he said. “Afghanistan was a 98.6 percent survival rate, and a lot of innovation went into that, but we’re good enough now that if anybody shows up here, they’re more than likely going to live, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”