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Answering The Call - Corpsmen Hone Battlefield Skill
by U.S. Navy Douglas Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton
April 29, 2018

When the cry went up that a corpsman was immediately needed for a casualty, students as well as instructors quickly realized that Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) program demanded their best.

Anything less and the casualty became a fatality.

“TCCC is probably one of the most important trainings a corpsman will attend. There are more advanced courses but as far as basic skills every corpsman should possess, TCCC is it. What really matters for us as corpsmen in the field is getting to the wounded as fast as we can. We’re saving their life. We’re not surgeons, but we’re buying time to get them to a higher echelon of care,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Shane Faulkner, TCCC instructor.

Faulkner, with eight years of Navy experience, including half that time attached to 3rd Battalion 1st Marines, Weapons Company, Scout Sniper Platoon, notes that the program was designed and implemented into the Navy because of the unique challenges that corpsmen face in the field. TCCC takes into account the tactical side as well as the traumatic injuries corpsmen have to handle in that environment.

“The goal of the program is to give every student a firm foundation in the principles and skills required to apply TCCC in a real world setting. We want to be able to treat the casualty, prevent additional casualties, and complete the mission,” stated Faulkner.

The week-long course provided Sailors with the necessary techniques, abilities and knowledge to provide emergency medical support and evacuation during a simulated combat environment. Instructors demanded rapid response, prompt assessments, and precise applications from the students. Indecision, unease or procrastination were antagonists to be overcome.

February 9, 2018 - Battlefield training on the MARCH...Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) program took to the field on the last day to test the MARCH mettle of students to keep their casualty alive by following the combat medicine algorithm MARCH, which stands for M for Massive hemorrhage, A for Airway, R for Respirations, C for Circulation, and H for Head and Hypothermia. "MARCH is designed to treat what will kill casualties from first to last," explained Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Shane Faulkner, TCCC instructor (U.S. Navy photo by Douglas H Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs)

“The end-all goal is for a corpsman to keep their casualty alive to get them to a higher echelon of care. We do this by using a simple algorithm, ‘MARCH,’ our combat medicine algorithm. MARCH stands for, M for Massive hemorrhage, A for Airway, R for Respirations, C for Circulation, and H for Head and Hypothermia. It is designed to treat what will kill casualties from first to last. We go over and over until it becomes muscle memory,” said Faulkner.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Joseph Alvis, a veteran of several deployments down range in Afghanistan, including one to the volatile Sangin district of Helmand Province and another as a Special Operations Combat Medic in Western Afghanistan, echoed Faulkner’s perspective on repetitively using the MARCH algorithm to help improve muscle memory.

“When treating a patient in a combat environment, it's important to create a systematic approach to assessing a patient to ensure you're doing everything in your ability to get your patient an improved chance of surviving. That systematic approach helps build muscle memory that cuts down overall time from the point of injury to the operating room,” said Alvis.

Alvis attests that medicine is a practice, no matter the level, and takes a lot of frequent studying and continual practice to keep up with the times, especially if the skill is needed on the battlefield.

“I want everyone to get a feel for how exponentially difficult things become when treating a patient in combat. What seems a simple task can now become your worst enemy on the battle field if you don't practice medicine under stress. That stressor can be simulated easily by putting yourself on a clock, practicing medical skills in the middle of a workout when tired, or creating skill lanes with a group of buddies and racing one another. I also would like to stress the importance of staying humble and most importantly hungry for knowledge, understanding the why,” Alvis explained.

Faulkner, Alvis and other instructors had the students apply their skill necessary for the course by going over such requirements as being able to handle primary and secondary patient assessment, administering CPR, shock recognition, spinal stabilization, casualty drag and carry, dealing with airway emergencies, hemorrhage control, chest needle decompression, and applying splinting and pressure dressings.

“For most corpsmen TCCC will be the only training on trauma before they deploy. It becomes hard sometimes trying to emphasis to the students that you just never know when you might actually be put in the situation were you actually have to use it,” said Faulkner.

From the classroom to the field, NHB’s TCCC provider course is held monthly at the Behavior Health and Education Center on Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor, as well as in the surrounding wooded area.

Those enrolled are guaranteed to MARCH.

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