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MAGAMANE, Morocco — As soon as the siren wailed, feigned moans and groans could be heard throughout the river valley. U.S. military personnel with fake, Hollywood-style broken bones and massive head wounds squirmed on the ground as if in excruciating pain.

“Help! Somebody!!”

“Argghhhh!”

“I want my grandma!”

It was all part of a disaster drill to test Moroccan military and civilian response teams, and some of the American servicemembers took full advantage of the opportunity to act as flood casualties.

The disaster response practice was the last major event scheduled as part of MEDFLAG 03, a multinational humanitarian relief and medical training mission that ends Saturday.

About 100 U.S. military personnel — the bulk coming from Naval Station Rota’s hospital in Spain — are participating in the two-week exercise in North Africa.

Over the course of four days, American doctors, nurses and corpsmen showed Moroccans how to respond to a mass-casualty situation and operate in the chaotic aftermath of a natural disaster.

Moroccan Col. M’Barek Dimou, a military doctor who directed the drill, said advice and training from the U.S. military medical personnel will help the Moroccans develop their own disaster plan.

“Preparation for disaster is the best way to prevent one,” he said, spouting off one of the emergency-response planner mantras.

The scenario for Thursday’s drill was a flash flood with 40 injured. Five to six people come upon a rising river and call authorities. Moroccan military personnel 20 miles from the scene are called to help civilian rescue teams.

The start of the drill fast-forwards to 12 to 20 hours after troops get the call.

Although training for a flash flood in a country currently struggling with a seven-year drought might seem far-fetched, such disasters are common.

In November last year, floods in the city of Mohammedia displaced dozens of families. Two years ago, torrential rain caused 63 deaths and destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 homes. In 1965, the Oued Ghriss River — where Thursday’s drill was conducted — flooded and washed out an entire village.

Lt. Cmdr. Tom Craig, an emergency room doctor at Naval Hospital Rota who helped coordinate the exercise, said everyone tried to make the event as realistic as possible. They applied makeup and fake injuries from what the military calls a “moulage kit.”

As if on cue, rain began to fall.

Some joked that it was “moulage rain” whipped up by U.S. military weathermen, but it added to the realism.

While Moroccans used the skills they learned in class, U.S. medical personnel monitored and graded their performance.

Navy Lt. Reid Wrinkler, who is based in Rota, made sure the on-scene commanders kept a good record of the number of patients and maintained good communication with the other emergency-response teams. Other servicemembers made sure the Moroccans followed the correct procedures to fit the specific injuries.

“Our instructions are strictly to observe and let the Moroccans handle the show,” Wrinkler said. “It’s their drill. Let them handle it and just be silent observers.”

Midway through the exercise, Lt. Mark Musket was impressed.

“With that last patient, they did an excellent job of turning her,” said Musket, a physician’s assistant from Rota. “They’re doing a good job so far.”

There were some snafus. Moroccans nearly fell into the rocky riverbed carrying a U.S. sailor on a stretcher, forcing U.S. monitors to tell them to slow down.

After the exercise, U.S. and Moroccan military personnel planned to analyze the performance and identify areas of improvement.

The goal of the Moroccans is to emulate an American disaster response plan, which the military hospital in Rota tests every six months. After four days of training and a final test of their skills, doctors said the Moroccan military and civilian rescue teams were well on their way.

“So far, their medical management is excellent,” Craig said.


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