Blue light exercise

2Lt. Meghan Marsaw
First published in
SFOR Informer#149, October 10, 2002

A dreary, fog-covered patch of road and field provided the perfect setting for the latest in a series of Blue Light Exercises organised by Multinational Division South-West. This particular medical exercise, held Sept. 21 in Gracanica near Bugojno, is designed to test the Dutch Battle Group's (NLBG) Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and the multinational Immediate Reaction Team's (IRT) response to a mass casualty situation.

Gracanica - Although these exercises are held at least twice during a six-month rotation for each Battle Group (BG), this particular Blue Light Exercise laid claim to the most complicated scenario to date. Capt. Miklos Lelkes, who provides medical advice to the NLBG, developed this particular scenario.
"We wanted to train every aspect of the QRF and every aspect of the IRT helicopter," he said.
The scene was comprised of a two-vehicle accident that resulted in eight casualties - one dead and seven injured with their wounds varying in severity. The deceased was a civilian pedestrian who was the actual cause of the accident as both SFOR vehicles swerved to avoid him, lost control and found themselves in a mixed minefield. The first vehicle wound up overturned in the minefield while the second vehicle struck the man and found itself upright but deep within the minefield.
Hostile surrounding
The challenge for the QRF was to efficiently analyse the mass casualty situation; determine how best to deal with the added problem of land-mines; find a landing site for the IRT Cougar helicopter that would bring the Mine Detection Dog and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team and ultimately evacuate the most severely injured to the medical facility in Sipovo.
Time is of the essence when it comes to casualty evacuation. However, a main problem here was how to effectively extract the injured when the fields are riddled with land-mines.
"The main goal of this exercise was to test the procedures of notifying and sending out the QRF," said Maj. Geert Smit, Senior Medical Officer for the Dutch Contingent. "We observed their medical procedures, how they handled the mine threat and how they organised the scene," he said.
The first priority was securing the scene. With military police and infantry assets this was done quickly. From there they could concentrate on the extraction of the numerous casualties. Until the Mine Detection Dog arrived in the IRT helicopter, the QRF had to manually clear pathways to the victims. This was extremely time-consuming and painstaking work, but essential in order to protect the rescuers from becoming casualties themselves.
SFOR in action
Once paths were cleared they could get at the vehicles and set about providing basic medical aid while others concentrated on extracting the most serious victims for transport to the nearest medical facility. This was a realistic and comprehensive exercise that pushed the commander on scene and his team to the limits. How they prioritised the scene and handled their assets was key to their success.
With all of this activity going on it would have been strange had a crowd not formed. Curious children from the area, as well as a few adults, flocked to the scene to witness the helicopter landing and see SFOR in action. They were allowed in for a closer look and the SFOR interpreter provided an explanation to the spectators. This was enhanced by additional input from monitoring staff members who were also on the scene. All in all the children agreed that SFOR had put on an entertaining exercise.

Related link: Training and Exercises

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Photos: Cpl. Grant Rivalin

An IRT flight nurse comforts a casualty before they are removed from the scene.

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A member of the QRF clears a path through a minefield to reach SFOR members who are injured.

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The Mine Detection Dog team clears a path to an injured SFOR soldier while a QRF member looks on from atop a Dutch Armoured Personnel Carrier.

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The Mine Detection Dog team clears a path to an injured SFOR soldier while in the foreground, a mine hides dangerously near.