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From the Field: Medical provider brings back lessons learned, memories from ‘frozen South’

Maj. Deb Walker (left), a physician assistant assigned to the 153rd Medical Group, Wyoming Air National Guard, practices airway management techniques with pig tracheas during an eight-day Combat Casualty Care Course in Texas that began late January 2014. The course was designed to teach military medical professionals how to perform care under fire in combat situations. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Deb Walker)

Maj. Deb Walker (left), a physician assistant assigned to the 153rd Medical Group, Wyoming Air National Guard, practices airway management techniques with pig tracheas during an eight-day Combat Casualty Care Course in Texas that began late January 2014. The course was designed to teach military medical professionals how to perform care under fire in combat situations. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Deb Walker)

Maj. Deb Walker, a physician assistant assigned to the 153rd Medical Group, Wyoming Air National Guard, poses with classmates during an eight-day Combat Casualty Care Course held in Texas that began late January 2014. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Deb Walker)

Maj. Deb Walker, a physician assistant assigned to the 153rd Medical Group, Wyoming Air National Guard, poses with classmates during an eight-day Combat Casualty Care Course held in Texas that began late January 2014. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Deb Walker)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- "I dreamed I was giving care under fire for the next five nights at home. The training was that intense."

That training etched in Maj. Debbie Walker's mind and sleep was the Combat Casualty Care Course, an eight-day joint-service course in Texas conducted for medical readiness personnel such as physicians, physician assistants, nurses and other specialized health care providers to enhance operational medical readiness. The training is designed to provide leadership skills, field medical knowledge and the ability to combine both in stressful combat situations.

Walker, a physician assistant and program manager for the Be Well program at the 153rd Airlift Wing Medical Group, fully expected the training to be real, but find out from her own words below what she learned about teamwork, changes in field medicine over the years and what it was like to be shocked:

Wearing a Kevlar helmet, flack vest and carrying a dummy M-16, I learned how to give care under fire. Days began at 5 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. I lived in a 40-man co-ed tent, "complete" with no heat and no winter-weight sleeping bags, slept in my chemical suit some nights and ate Meals-Ready-to-Eat on the go. We woke up to rain one morning and snow the next. All said, it was still a part of the training I looked most forward to as I have always enjoyed field training.

I last completed C4 about 20 years ago. Back then the training was a classroom-style course and field training was laid back. Not this time. Instructors recreated noisy environments with gunfire, blew up barrels and yelled at us while we performed care under fire. The training left you with a taste of what it might be like for those performing real-lifesaving duties overseas in dangerous environments, because any of us could end up doing just this.

Some people said, "I can't do this," Instructors would respond, "Yes, you can."
Serving as a platoon leader was also stressful, but I learned unit cohesion and helping one another with our individual weaknesses was huge. Not all platoons did this.

For me, having short stature I knew I was going to need assistance getting over this one wall while weighted down with a helmet, flak vest and a heavy medical kit. I had such a good feeling about my troop that it did not bother me one bit to turn and say, "I'm going to need help over this wall." And sure enough, somebody right behind me just gave me a push.

A big difference from what I have known over the years from both teaching advanced cardiac life support and taking advanced trauma life support classes, we are taught to start with airway. In combat, you start with blood loss first. So we put on tourniquets, and we put on tourniquets and then we put on more tourniquets.

The interactive firing range was optional and instructors offered the "opportunity" to use a "motivator," a device attached to shooters' belts that shocked them when they missed targets. Using this device was voluntary and not all of the gals went for it, but I volunteered and it took me down a few times.

Being trained by medics and corpsmen who have served in combat overseas was beneficial, making the training feel as real as possible. Stress in preparing with short notice and the combat-simulated stress during the training was a worthwhile experience I would encourage any of my fellow medical professionals to attend.

Sleeping in your chemical suit and being shocked are optional.

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