Under pressure: Keesler DCRF excels during exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Davis
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

Keesler’s Defense Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Response Force (DCRF) know that time is always of the essence.

The 117-person team from Keesler participated in a joint exercise with U.S. Army medical personnel at Camp Atterbury, Indiana on May 3-15.

“Our job is to drop into a bare bones site after a CBRN event has occurred and build a hospital from scratch,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Shwalb, 81st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron and 81st DCRF commander. “We get there, we unload, and within the first 15 minutes of building our hospital we’re triaging patients on the ground; essentially we’re flying the airplane while we build it.”

Air Force and Army medical personnel worked together to set up an 11-tent Expeditionary Medical Support System (EMEDS), complete with expanded medical care, surgical care, ancillary services, dental care and more.

They treated patients, both human and canine, from a nearby simulated nuclear detonation.

“We're a mobile team, we can be picked up and dropped off anywhere and build a hospital,” said Capt. Spencer Tacktill, 81st Medical Support Squadron and 81st DCRF director of operations. “The goal is 60 hours to be a fully operational hospital, and we actually did it in 33 hours.”

Simulating a deployed environment allows personnel to get a sense of what they might face downrange.

“As Air Force medics, we are here first and foremost in order to deploy,” said Shwalb. “We have the ability to perform in any environment in the world, and exercises like this help ensure we’re ready to go at any time.”

Exercises like this allow the DCRF to analyze their standard operating procedures and find areas of improvement, especially when it comes to patient care.

“One limitation of the current hospital configuration is the absence of behavioral health assets” said Shwalb. “We decided to embed an Army Combat and Operational Stress Control team into our hospital, allowing us to better treat the Mental Health needs of our patients while also freeing up our other teams to better focus on stabilizing and treating critically wounded patients.”

The exercise proved a valuable training opportunity for a relatively young, yet highly determined, team.

“About 53 percent of our team was E-4 or O-2 and below, but every member was highly motivated and positive,” said Shwalb. “Even while sustaining 24-hour operations for 10 straight days with very complex medical cases, we were known as the team with an unshakeable can-do attitude.”

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