U.S., French Service Members Hone Crisis Response Procedures during Exercise
"Attention in the JOC, this is an exercise, exercise, exercise emergency ...," began U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Scott Hodge, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, or CJTF-HOA, joint operations center team chief, after his watch officer, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Randy Neihart, informed him of an exercise emergency phone call he received from someone in the Grand Bara Desert.
French and U.S. service members teamed Sept. 25, 2012, during Mass Casualty, or MASCAL, Exercise 12-1, with one goal in mind.
"[This exercise] prepares the JOC for crisis response," said U.S. Navy Commander Robert Nowakowski, CJTF-HOA director of training. "[Its purpose is to] familiarize French and U.S. medical units in joint triage operations and procedures in the austere conditions of Djibouti, expose French and U.S. medical personnel to new techniques and procedures, build coalition capacity to enhance medical readiness, and maintain assured access to the region."
The exercise, which called for the employment of real-world assets, followed a fictitious, but possible storyline, according to U.S. Army Maj. Timothy Dukeman, CJTF-HOA deputy director of training.
"In real life this is not out of the [HOA] realm of possibility that a bus would roll over while returning [from the local desert survival course] because of a traffic accident," said Dukeman.
MASCAL 12-1 was also a first in CJTF-HOA's ten-year existence.
"It's our first coalition MASCAL exercise and, just like anything in the military, you do rehearsals to ensure that, in the future, when you actually have a real-world incident, you're able to respond in a timely manner," said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Levanger, CJTF-HOA safety manager.
Florian De Los Rios, French army missile operator and exercise casualty, shared similar thoughts.
"I am happy because I am seeing us, French, and U.S. working together," he said. "It's good. If it really happens we can [dispatch] more quickly."
According to Dukeman, the exercise bridged many gaps between the U.S. and French forces operating in and around Djibouti.
"Exercises like this support the HOA mission because we are working with one of our partner nations, the French," said Dukeman. "Since we both have a significant footprint here in Djibouti, this is the first step of furthering our outreaching effort."
To kick off the exercise a caller phoned to inform the JOC that 40 French and U.S. service members were involved in an accident when two busses flipped over after trying to avoid a camel.
As Neihart hung up the phone, the clock started ticking.
More than a dozen JOC, personnel recovery, weather, medical and other CJTF-HOA members convened in the JOC to determine a timeline and course of action to provide expeditious support to the distressed individuals. Within 30 minutes, help was on the way.
As help arrived at the crash scene in the form of one French SA-330 Puma and two U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, several pararescuemen, a combat rescue officer, personnel recovery security team members, doctors, nurses, and corpsmen offloaded, set up a casualty collection point and began medically assessing the injured to determine their priority for care. One U.S. Air Force pararescueman, or PJ, an exercise participant, shared his thoughts about the exercise.
"It's always good doing coalition exercises like this," said the PJ, assigned to the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. "We get to work with other coalition partners, see how they operate and learn from them as well as, hopefully, they learn from us."
Based on their medical condition, casualties were litter-carried onto the three helicopters. Two trips were made to transfer all 40 individuals to the French Forces Djibouti base temporary triage center. Here, service members were given additional care.
U.S. and French troops were then taken, by ambulance, to Camp Lemonnier's Expeditionary Medical Facility or the French Bouffard Military Hospital. Once all casualties were accounted for within a medical facility, the exercise concluded.
"We had U.S. personnel go to Bouffard hospital and French go to the EMF as well," Nowakowski said. "This was part of the capacity issue we wanted to stress to ensure policies to do this were in place."
According to Nowakowski, the exercise was successful in helping to familiarize the U.S. and French with each other's emergency operating procedures. His hope for the next exercise, which has not yet been scheduled, is to include the local German, Japanese and Djiboutian armed forces.
(Senior Airman Veronica McMahon contributed to this article)