FORT POLK, La. — The sight, smell and sound of war can’t be replicated. Realistic training to treat life-threatening combat trauma is impossible.
But, at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, soldiers are training to the best of their abilities, said Sgt. Dustin Snowdy, senior line medic for Charlie Company, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment.
“(For) a lot of the newer soldiers, it doesn’t really matter what trauma background they’ve had. The wounds and casualties you see during war are completely different than what you would see stateside,” Snowdy said.
“It’s also extremely hard to replicate a lot of trauma-type scenarios unless we’re in this type of environment — that way you can feel the fatigue, you know exactly what it takes to get people in and out of vehicles…”
Snowdy and the medics in his squadron were tested early Saturday at their forward aid station after an attack by enemy forces at mock Combat Outpost Turani.
By 2 a.m. Saturday, about 200 of the squadron’s 550 soldiers and medics, including Snowdy, were “killed” during the late-night attack.
The exercise is part of a six-day force-on-force training exercise, which ends Tuesday, that the brigade is conducting in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan this summer.
“There are certain things you can’t replicate in a combined training center and that’s the real horror of combat,” said Maj. John Sandler, 4th Squadron’s operations officer.
Despite the “heartache” of medical training’s inability to be 100 percent realistic, Snowdy said the training they receive is good.
“The training ... is repeated so often that when you have someone sitting in front of you with a certain injury, it’s more or less second-nature on how to treat it,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of thought process behind it. ... We drill so often that we don’t really think about it. We just do it.”
Army medics treat a wide range of patients, from local, national and coalition forces to Afghan locals who were injured as a direct result of U.S. forces.
“We’ll treat them if they’re in danger of losing their life, a limb or their eyesight,” he said.
Snowdy said he’s seen numerous adult casualties and treated children as young as 1.
“We don’t get a lot of training on pediatrics,” he said. “I probably remember every pediatric intervention I had to do. That’s probably the hardest thing, seeing kids coming to the aid station and children (who) are affected by everything.”
Snowdy, who deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, for 15 months in 2006 and to Afghanistan in 2010, said JRTC training gives newer soldiers a realistic look at treating combat wounds.
“Training at Fort Hood is good, but it’s not the real thing,” he said. “Nothing will completely, 100 percent prepare you for the real thing, but they can make it as close as possible.”