Medicine on the move

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

It looked like any big, tan Army tent with that distinctive smell and canvas floors. It stood on a field of mud across the street from Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center last week at Fort Hood.

The Advanced Trauma Life Support soldiers inside squished across the canvas-covered mud floor, laughing, joking and giving each other a hard time. They were having fun, but it was hard to ignore the gravity of the job on which they will soon embark.

The 555th Forward Surgical Team - Triple Nickel - will deploy to Afghanistan in the spring and provide critical care to wounded service members. The team, made up of 15 to 20 soldiers, takes care of wounded troops right off the battlefield. They get patients in most dire need of care in the most critical of moments.

Wounded men and women come out of the battlefield and to the team. There, bleeding is stopped, wounds are assessed and they are sent on to a combat support hospital, or CSH. From the CSH, pronounced "cash," they are airlifted to a medical center for further care.

An Advanced Trauma Life Support center can pack up and move anywhere in 24 hours, said Lt. Col. Margaret Collier, the team's commander. Triple Nickel is mobile, which means its soldiers will be on the front lines providing care.

The team practiced last week at Fort Hood. Darnall doctors came across the street to help the team perform things such as vasectomies and removing scar tissue. The patients were soldiers who volunteered to have their procedures in the training tent instead of at the medical center.

One of them was Sgt. 1st Class Derrek Gibson, the team's senior enlisted soldier. Scar tissue was removed from his right jaw, and he spent his time on the operating table joking with the team, putting the soldiers at ease and naming his removed lesion ("Henry").

Gibson volunteered the procedure to show his soldiers that he had faith and confidence in their abilities, he said after the surgery.

"I trust them," he added.

Trust will be important in the year the team will spend together in combat. Training like last week's was about working as a team and getting down routines that must become second nature because of the critical job these men and women will have: They will save lives.

The pace in a working Advanced Trauma Life Support center is hectic. Patients will only spend 10 to 15 minutes in the multi-sectioned tent, and during previous deployments, Capt. Nancy Emma has seen stays last only seven minutes. Emma is a trauma nurse with the team.

The center only has two beds and a series of medics, nurses and doctors moving patients from the trauma section to the operating room to the recovery area.

While last week's training sessions didn't exactly replicate the pace the team might encounter, it simulated the flow of patients coming through, Collier said.

It also showed leaders how the unit works as a team and identified strengths and weaknesses, Gibson said. It gave them an idea of what kind of training they need to focus on as that deployment and critical mission nears.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at or (254) 501-7547.

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