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Posted on: Monday, February 12, 2001

Medical drills put troops to test

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — The North Korean Army was advancing, and Navy Capt. Daniel Snyder felt the worry down to his boots.

The people in his battlefield hospital had to leave. Now.

Near Snyder’s briefing tent, Army ambulances rolled in with more wounded. Doctors and nurses scurried about. A Blackhawk medevac helicopter rumbled to life in a pouring rain, drowning out the gunfire in the background.

The bags under Snyder’s eyes were real, but everything else was a drill. It was all part of Pacific Warrior 2001, a two-week medical exercise involving 18 military units and 1,500 active-duty and reserve personnel.

Snyder, commander of the deployable, 84-bed hospital built on Schofield Barracks, called it "the experience of a lifetime."

The goal was to give troops confidence through realism. Part of the training included field surgeries.

"People have received training here that they rarely receive anywhere," Snyder said, shouting over another helicopter. "It reduces the fear of those who have to go to war and provide surgery when we really have to do it."

Medical personnel used to comfortable hospital settings worked in sealed, air-conditioned tents where the floor was only as level as the ground underneath. Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division (Light) added realism with day- and night-time battle sounds: machine guns, artillery, tracers in the sky.

The exercise involved all branches of the service and personnel from Hawaii and the Mainland. Snyder is executive officer of Naval Hospital Bremerton, in Washington.

Mass casualties were simulated with mannequins, complete with severed limbs. Battlefield nurses used pig body parts to create the feel of putting needles and tubes through skin.

The surgeries put this exercise in a special category.

Inside the 234-foot-long hospital tent, with its collection of windowless rooms and hallways, Army Maj. Fred Rice said he could easily imagine the tent where he worked for nine months during the Persian Gulf War.

"This is what it was like for me every day there," said Rice, a nurse anesthetist from Tripler Army Medical Center. He was dressed in blue hospital garb, from cap to booties. "I wouldn’t know I wasn’t in Saudi Arabia. Sitting right here I can’t tell, unless I look outside."

The setting teaches doctors to be innovative and do more with less, said Army Lt. Col. Tom Crabtree, a Tripler physician who also worked in a field hospital in the Balkans.

"If you’ve never been in a field environment, you say, I can’t do that,’" Crabtree said. "But you learn."

No one improvised on Senior Chief Petty Officer Joe Carder, recovering from hernia surgery on a cot.

"I’m not a big fan of hospitals," he said, smiling through gritted teeth. "It sounded interesting and they said I would be well taken care of."

It was true. Four nurses took care of his every need.

Realism was redefined, however, just outside the hospital tent. The guard wore camouflage and a helmet and demanded an entry password.

Her weapon? A wooden stake with the words "machine gun" written on the side.

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