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I started this blog to keep in touch with my family and friends during my time attending Commissioned Officer Training (COT) and the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course (JASOC) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Now I'm done with training and back in the "real" world, but I'll keep updating this blog with any interesting developments from my JAG career.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 4 (Days 22-23): Blue Thunder!

On Monday and Tuesday this week we got out of the classroom for the Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) field exercise.  I was the officer in charge of this two-day extravaganza.  I forget now how I ended up in that position, but I remember being asked whether I wanted to be the class social officer or the officer in charge of the AEF field exercise, and the phrase “AEF field exercise” sounded pretty cool so I went with that.
As it turns out, it would have helped to have some kind of medical background.  The AEF field exercise combines a number of separate events centered around a Medical Readiness Indoctrination Course (MRIC).  The MRIC is a three-hour simulation of an actual combat field hospital.  It is a required part of COT instruction—I guess because the Air Force wants its new nurses and doctors to have some exposure to real-world conditions before shipping off to Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the officer in charge of the entire exercise, I had to handle the logistics for getting every member of the class out to the exercise location (still on base, but away from the Officer Training School) with all of the required equipment and assigning people to tents.  I also set a shower schedule.  But my most important job was to figure out what role each member of Kelly Class would play in the MRIC.
This is where my prior medical training, had I any, would come in handy.  Lacking that baseline knowledge, I leaned on other people to come up with a roster that seemed to work.  We had doctors and nurses assigned to various departments, including triage, OR, ER, ICU, dental, mental health, and med/surge.  I assigned lab techs to radiology.  My pharmacists ran the pharmacy.  And all of my other medical service corps personnel were doing patient tracking or overall operations control.  Non-medical personnel—i.e., the jags and chaplains—staffed all the other positions needed for the simulation, such as patients, manpower (patient transport), and security.
The roster complete, we had an MRE breakfast (I had maple sausage, which wasn’t half bad) and headed out in school buses.  The drive to the other side of the base took all of ten minutes.  Once there, we assembled underneath a huge overhang.  Echo flight ended up sitting in some bleachers at the back of the overhang and to one side, where were fully exposed to the chill wind and ice-cold drizzle it brought.  So we were happy to get up and participate in the bag drop.  Each of us had been given a list of what to bring for the two days, including a spare ABU, towel, shower shoes, two MREs, running shoes, boots, and a pad of paper and writing instrument.  That done, we all got cots and moved into our tents.  Each flight had two tents—one for each gender.
Enjoying some MREs
Echo Flight arrives at Blue Thunder
 The rest of the morning we spent learning how to build the tent shelters used in the field and how to use a litter—i.e., a stretcher—to carry wounded personnel.  After being instructed on how to use the litter, we took our “wounded” patient through a litter-carry obstacle course, testing our skills.
Practicing our litter carry skills
Mmmm, more MREs!
Our litter carry team, self-dubbed "Echo One"
Then, in the afternoon, it was game time.  Being nonmedical, I didn’t really have a job during the MRIC.  But since I helped organize the thing, I was able to stay inside the mock field hospital and observe, rather than being sent to act as a patient or run around playing security forces.
It was really and truly amazing.  The patients came fast and furious—food poisoning, IED victims, burns, broken bones—while the staff threw other environmental stressors into the mix, such as mortar attacks that required everyone to take cover until the threat ended.  I came away well and thoroughly impressed with what goes on in places like Balad Air Force Base in Iraq.
Tired from a full day of events outside of the classroom, we had a hot dinner and then retired to our tents.  Our second—and last—written test was on Wednesday and we also had to present a 5- to 9-minute informative brief, so everyone spent Monday night studying or catching up on sleep.
I had been tasked with waking up the entire class at 0430 on Tuesday morning.  That, of course, means that I woke up at 0130 and again every thirty minutes thereafter, all the while dreaming in my semiconscious state that I had totally blown the wake-up call and that it was well after 0600.  But that was just a dream.  I did get up at 0420 before getting dressed and stumbling into the equipment hangar to play Reveille over the loudspeakers.  It was actually pretty cool—I felt all-powerful as I hit that button and heard the first few notes blare out over the campground.  Bump-bump-ba-da-dump Bump-bump-ba-da-dump . . .
We tackled the Ropes Course and the Confidence Course after breakfast.  Well, “tackled” is probably too strong a word.  Alpha through Echo flights were told to do the Ropes Course—a series of wire/rope obstacles of increasing height that ends in a zip-line back to the ground—first, while Foxtrot through India went to the Confidence Course.  Being the last flight sent to the Ropes Course, we had to wait until all the others finished before we could start.  And wait we did.  For about five hours.  Five hours of standing in the bitter cold.  Five hours of watching other people tackle the course.  Some went right through in impressive fashion.  Many others inched along, trying to conquer their acrophobia.  One guy had to be rescued at the half-way point when his fear got the best of him.  Eventually we realized how long it was going to take for us to get on the course, so we stopped waiting and started quizzing each other, preparing for that last written test.  But we could only do so much of that.  All in all, the wait was terrible.
We finally made it onto the Ropes Course at around 1100.  I flew through as quickly as possible, loving every second.  At the midway point I said hello to Snake Eyes, our flight commander—he spent the entire morning high up on one of the obstacles, advising each trainee and acting as a safety.  I felt sorry for him because of the high winds and bitter cold.  But he’s a trooper, and he pumped me up as I moved through.

Me and Eldridge on the course
McGuire was my wingman for the Ropes Course

Echo Flight all geared up

This poor guy had to be rescued off the Ropes course
From the Ropes Course we went to the Confidence Course, which is a huge wooden tower with a rock-climbing wall on one side; you rappel down the other.  At the top of the tower you walk out onto 30-foot telephone pole called the toothpick because of how narrow it seems when you’re walking on it.  After failing in my first attempt at the rock wall I made it to the top on my second, albeit by climbing the “easy” side of the wall.  I then went up to the toothpick.  I felt pretty confident all day, but I have to admit that it was a little scary up there, mainly due to the high wind that made everything seem to shake and that threatened to blow me right off and send me to my death.
We’re now done and back in the dorm, studying for tomorrow’s test.  I’m also working on my brief, which is about the conflict in Mindanao (the southern Philippine islands) between Islamic terror groups and the Catholic majority government.  And on Thursday and Friday we have the Leadership Reaction Course—a return to the obstacle course we did two weeks ago, with each flight member serving as a team leader.

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