TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii --
Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing stationed at U.S. Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, transported casualties during a mass-casualty exercise here July 21.
The exercise is one of many conducted during the 2008 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, a multinational exercise held every two years promoting stability within the Pacific region.
“This is a mass casualty exercise that we initiated with an explosion onboard the (USS) O’Kane,” said Cmdr. Paul C. Miller, 3rd Fleet deputy surgeon and also the RIMPAC senior medical advisor on site. “The object is to test our inter-operability, not just with our Australian and Canadian counterparts, but also with the Army and other services.”
Miller said casualties were transferred from the O’Kane to the USS Bonhomme Richard, and then 75 patients from the Bonhomme Richard were flown to Tripler using Marine CH-53s.
“The Marine Corps is a large component of the Bonhomme Richard, and we utilized their CH-53s for the transport of 75 casualties from the Bonhomme Richard to Tripler,” said Miller. “In essence, we wouldn’t have had any patient transportation without the Marines.”
Three CH-53s were employed for the exercise, flying multiple sorties from an amphibious naval vessel sitting off the coast of Oahu to here.
Waiting on the ground, Army and Air Force medical teams prepared for the first Marine helo to land.
As the roar of the turbine engine got louder, the teams braced for the forceful winds pushing down on the pad as the helicopter landed.
First out, Maj. Mark Merrill, operations officer for HMH-362, secured the perimeter before medics or patients were moved.
“I’m a safety observer for the helicopters coming in,” Merrill said. “This (landing Zone) isn’t typically used by such a large, heavy helicopter that puts down such a large down thrust.”
Merrill said the CH-53s are crewed by two pilots, two crew chiefs and capable of holding 24 patient. For an exercise like this, they normally put three crew chiefs on board and for administrative purposes bring 16 patients.
After calling the all-clear, Merrill signaled for both sides to commence.
While casualties shuffled out the back of the helicopter and were given medical attention, crew chiefs handled body counts and gear collection.
“We don’t really get to participate in training missions like this that often,” said Cpl. Joseph Edwards, crew chief, HMH-362. “We do train for other missions on a regular basis, keeping our skills toned for events like this.”
Edwards said as a crew chief he assists pilots with navigation, operates the door gun and loads cargo, but most importantly he also makes sure he’s got the approved people on board and drops them off at the right places.
“It feels really good to get the training we need, in case something bad happens in a combat zone,” Edwards said.
Once the casualties were off and accounted for, Merrill signaled the pilots to lift off and return for another pickup.
“It’s very good to train with the international community and see how they do things,” Merrill said. “Our biggest part is the planning and getting into it.”
Miller attributed the success of the exercise to all services participating, and said the Marines played a tremendous role in the exercise for the transporting of casualties.