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German Mobile Medical Team plays for real

by David Taylor

First published in SFOR Informer #15, July 23, 1997

Photo 1T.JPG (9041 bytes) In early July 1997, the German Mobile Medical team based in Rajlovac near Sarajevo, staged a mass-casualty exercise based around a mine-strike by a busload of soldiers visiting the abandoned Olympic ski-jump slopes on Mount Igman near Sarajevo. Manoeuvring to make a turn, the bus went onto the grassy verge and struck a forgotten mine. Sixteen casualties of varying degrees of seriousness were made up - very realistically - to test the logistics and co-ordination capabilities of the many and varied personnel who would be involved in a real mass casualty operation.

Photo 2T.JPG (9837 bytes)Mount Igman 09:58 - "Hello, help me. There’s been an explosion andphoto 3T.JPG (8717 bytes) there’re lots of injured people. I think it’s a mine or something." Dr. Michael Neuhoff has already put a twist into the exercise about to unfold. The operator knew an exercise was coming, but wasn’t expecting the call to come in English from Flt. Lt. Heather Smith, SFOR HQ CJ4 observer. After a pause and an attempt to understand whether reality had cut into the exercise, the operator got on with the job of having Smith give a location and dimension to the incident. Then the Rescue Co-ordination Centre swung into action and began to test the system.

photo 4T.JPG (7610 bytes)There were numerous units to mobilise: the standby ambulance, the hospital, the CH53 MEDEVAC helicopter, the medical teams, the Military Police, the Mechanised Battalion to be ready to provide security, materials, vehicles and MND-SE in Mostar. No EOD team was to be activated for this occasion although they would be integrated in a real life scenario of this sort.

"We are really out to test our logistics, today, and put our Rescue Co-ordination Centre to the test," said Neuhoff. There will be referees to judge the performance of everyone from the scrambling of the ambulance crews to the performance of the field surgeons and paramedics." It was not to be just a case of arriving at the patient and saying "I’m here". The patients were going to be treated fully according to their injuries and time would ‘cost lives’.

Photo 5T.JPG (8525 bytes)On 24-hour call with just two minutes reaction time, the emergency ambulance was the first to arrive at the scene of the disaster. Confused passengers staggered around screaming for something to be done for their injured colleagues, and, thanks to some expert gory make-up, the scene aboard the bus offered a fair degree of realism to the first medics on the scene. The Military Police closely followed and began to take charge of the situation as well as assisting with patients.

Photo 6T.JPG (7693 bytes)A steady sequence began to unfold of casualties being evacuated from the vehicle and laid out in a triage according to the severity of their wounds. These were made to vary from violent amputation, abdominal wounds, breathing difficulties, to shock. On the basis of this initial assessment, treatment was given out. More ambulances arrived, as well as a platoon of infantrymen to offer security and assistance. The ‘injured’ punctured the clear mountain air with howls and groans to add realism; although many of them were obviously quite pleased to be given the chance to really ham it up.

Photo 7T.JPG (8008 bytes)A couple of miles away a CH53 landed almost precisely one hour afterPhoto 8T.JPG (8867 bytes) the first emergency call had been sent. Captain Albrecht Huber, confirmed that he had received the message at 10:06 - mere minutes after the S.O.S. The landing site had been chosen at a distance to further test the logistic capabilities of the team. "The scenario involved a mine strike, so the helicopter would not be allowed to land in the immediate vicinity anyway as the down draft could cause further explosions," explained Neuhoff.

photo 9T.JPG (9173 bytes)"We were ready by 10:30 and lifted off at 10:52, said Huber. "We carry our own unit doctor, Holger Osterberg and his medical assistant, Sgt Jochen Schmid. The crew actually comes from different units back in Germany. We are just one of the MEDEVAC crews working out of Rajlovac. The French and Italians also offer services. Luckily my crew has not been involved in a real situation."

The ambulances begin to arrive: of 16 injured, six have been deemed critical and have to be transported by helicopter. The stretcher crews quickly get them aboard for lift-off. Down at the hospital in Rajlovac the hospital has swung into full motion. A triage tent has been set up and the patients are passed through for treatment assessment before being taken into the hospital proper. After the last one has been admitted, we look around for an end of exercise statement but it appears the only people who have been ‘end-EXed’ are the patients. The amputee has miraculously regained a leg and is eating an orange and joking with the crowd. Major Dr. Detlef Nick, Rajlovac Field Hospital Commander explains that there will be no summing up for at least a week: "We’ll de-brief after the excitement has died down and we’ve all had chance to seriously assess how things went."

[German soldier]