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31st MEU Marines practice mass casualty evacuation

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Dozens of simulated casualties are strewn about the open field in varying conditions, anxiously awaiting the welcome sound of rotors from incoming CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters.

Marines and Sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion-31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a mass casualty evacuation training exercise (codename Nightingale) here, Dec.14, as part of their preparatory training for the upcoming spring deployment.

Security teams were inserted via helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-262 (Reinforced) to secure the landing zone and casualty area. A team of riflemen formed a ring around the landing zone to protect the helicopters moving in and out, while a team from the CLB-31’s military police detachment secured the casualty area.

“We are responsible for safeguarding our corpsmen and casualties from external threats,” said Staff Sgt. C. C. Poole, platoon sergeant for the MP detachment, CLB-31, 31st MEU, and a native of Coos Bay, Ore. “If our medical teams and casualties are harmed during the process, it defeats the purpose of us coming to evacuate those already wounded.”

Once the MP detachment determined the casualty area to be clear of any threat, helicopters inserted the medical team. Several corpsmen moved in to assess and categorize more than a dozen casualties.

Casualties are rated as immediate (life threatening injuries), delayed (treatable injuries) or expectant (expected to die from injuries). Once categorized, Marines from the security element transport the casualties by litter to a staging area.

“We need to make sure the immediate casualties get out first, the ones needing the most urgent care,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class James D. Woodson, a hospital corpsman and Nightingale initial response team leader for CLB-31, 31st MEU, and native of Ozark, Mo.

In a real mass casualty situation, casualties would be evacuated by helicopter to a Level 2 medical facility like the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), where surgical and extended care is available. In the training evolution, the helicopters brought the casualties back to the LZ after a short ride.

Throughout the execution of the Nightingale, the mission priority remains on patient care. This focus places the operation’s team of corpsmen in a leading role.

“The (corpsmen) are the main effort in all of this,” said 2nd Lt. Jake M. Sharry, the maintenance management officer and Nightingale officer-in-charge for CLB-31, 31st MEU, and native of Boston, Mass. “The success of the mission depends a lot on them.”

The Marines and Sailors successfully completed two training scenarios this day, preparing to respond to mass casualty situations ranging from combat operations to humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and the only continuously forward deployed MEU.

Article by Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr., Marines.mil