KINGWOOD, W.Va. — Braving the elements and a government shutdown, a 10-day large-scale combat medic training at Camp Dawson wrapped up late this week — coming “as close to the real thing” as it gets.
“They have to reproduce these skills in much worse environments,” Lieutenant Colonel John Snedegar of the West Virginia Army National Guard said. “We really can’t make it too worse, but the idea is not to stump the student but to challenge them in a real difficult environment.”
More than 50 combat medics were able to arrive and thrive at Camp Dawson for the 10-day training exercise, in spite of wintry weather in the middle of last week and a federal government shutdown to start this week. Snedegar said he thought some of the students might have to be sent home, but got a helping hand from Adjutant General James Hoyer .
“The Adjutant General (James Hoyer) and his staff stepped in and made sure that this was priority training,” Snedegar said. “We were able to keep the students here — not have any delay or distraction with that.”
The large-scale training includes, in addition to the feel of a live battle, med evacs, gas chambers, and beaten and bloodied mannequins.
“That greatly reduces the cost,” he said. “Otherwise, we’d have to send these folks out-of-state or on the civilian side to obtain the training. That can be very costly.”
The combat medics participate to maintain their certification at both a military and civilian level. Snedegar, who is a nurse, said these training sessions are vital for what he called “the most important job in the military.”
“We provide as realistic training as possible anywhere,” he said. “But we do it at a reduced cost, and we’re able to keep that money here and those training hours here in West Virginia.”
Snedegar said, when all is said and done, the simulation can ‘come pretty close’ to a real battle.
“We can make up the mannequins with varying degrees of injury to make it as realistic as possible,” he said. “Our mannequins bleed when we want them to bleed. We can come pretty close, but it’s never going to be like the real thing.”
Bleeding mannequins aren’t the only thing to expect, Snedegar added.
“We had radio chatter, smoke filled rooms, munitions that made noises that sounded like gunfire, explosions, dogs barking,” he said. “You name it, we threw it at them.”
The medics in attendance represented just under half of the 130 combat medics in the entirety of the West Virginia Army National Guard.
“They may be your friend, your neighbor, family member,” Snedegar said. “And some of them may not work medicine Monday through Friday. So it’s real important that we sustain those skills.”
Snedegar said it could be in a combat zone or it could be in their home state — the medics will eventually put their training to good use.
“When you talk about life and death, when you talk about saving soldiers life — and not only soldiers,” he said. “These soldiers can report to state active duty like flood duty, fire duty, derecho.”