DJIBOUTI BASE CLUSTER, Djibouti – Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment from Minnesota, participated in a joint medical evacuation exercise with French Forces based in Djibouti, Africa, Nov. 19, 2020, in an effort to streamline medical evacuation processes between the two partner nations.
2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment is part of Task Force Bayonet, a group of over 900 National Guard Soldiers from Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois that are currently deployed throughout the Horn of Africa in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The training, which took two months to plan, was designed to provide an opportunity for Task Force Bayonet personnel to practice the utilization of French assets in the event of a real-world medical emergency.
“The process has not been looked at in over three years,” said 1st Lt. Jenna Heller, the security forces medical operations officer for Task Force Bayonet. “It was an opportunity to refine our battle drills and standard operating procedures.”
Although the French Forces have done many other joint exercises with the United States, this special medical evacuation exercise in the Djibouti Base Cluster was a first of its kind said Maj. Vincent Bay, the deputy of the French Combined Air Operations Center and the flight director for the exercise.
“Task Force Bayonet initiated the joint training in order to improve their knowledge of the (French) medical evacuation support,” Bay said. “The purpose was to share knowledge and procedures in case of a medical evacuation.”
Around 20 U.S. and French personnel participated in the exercise which started at one of the Djibouti Base Cluster outposts, where Soldiers in a randomly picked guard tower were presented with another Soldier facing a serious medical emergency. Initial aid was rendered to the casualty, and medics stationed at the outpost were requested to transport the patient for further care at the post aid station. From there, a 9-line medical evacuation request was sent to the Personnel Recovery Coordination Center at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, and a SA 330 Puma French helicopter was dispatched to transport the patient to Base Aérienne 188 (French Air Force Base), here in Djibouti.
Heller said that for the medics with Task Force Bayonet who participated in the exercise, it was an opportunity to train their response time and procedures in a scenario in which the pressure of time and outside resources were as close to a real-world situation as possible. “With Soldiers stationed at the outpost away from the main emergency medical facilities of Camp Lemonnier, and Soldiers conducting ranges off post regularly, it is very likely that French assistance would be needed in the event of a medical evacuation,” she said.
Some medics that were put to the test during the exercise said that it was the type of training scenario that helps them to improve their craft. “As medics, we can rehearse our skills repeatedly,” said Pfc. Mileah Kincade, a medic that participated in the event. “These exercises offer situations that allow us to use our critical thinking to provide the best treatment for the casualty. These scenarios allow us to see the areas we are proficient in, the areas that need work, and make changes to ensure efficient patient responses.”
Sgt. Alexander Obanor, another medic with Task Force Bayonet that is stationed at the outpost where the exercise took place, said that the planning and execution for the exercise was exhausting and yet satisfying.
“Working with the French was a really exciting new experience for me personally,” Obanor said. “Being able to talk, plan, and execute the scenario so that it was beneficial for both sides was a really good thing to see.” On a larger scale, Obanor said that he had a better understanding of partner nations in the area, and that no entity is alone in the region. “We have very capable partner nations that we can call on and learn from and I believe the feeling is mutual,” he said.
As for the French, Bay said that he is thankful for everyone who helped to coordinate the event and those that participated in it, helping to maintain the positive working relationship between both nations. “France and the United States have a very strong relationship thanks to mutual support we have in operations in Africa, the Middle East an elsewhere in the world,” he said.