By Spc. Ronald Bell and Capt. Sherrain Reber
807th Medical Command (Deployment Support)
It’s hard to get a Soldier into flight nurse training in any given year, especially hard if you’re in the Army Reserve. The U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine (USASAM), Fort Rucker, Ala., is the Army’s center for training flight surgeons, aeromedical physician assistants, flight medics, flight nurses and aeromedical evacuation officers, out of Fort Rucker, Alabama. The flight nurse course is offered four times a year, but generally only one slot is available for an Army Reserve Soldier to attend.
Capt. Erickson Shuler and Capt. Rebecca Rosales, 228th Combat Support Hospital (CSH), are scheduled to deploy with their unit to Kuwait later this summer. Not only were they able to get into the program, they were able to train together as a two-man rescue team and complete all of the course requirements - the timed test to prepare a patient for medical treatment and transport via Black Hawk, Black Hawk patient prep during a blackout, and underwater survival techniques in a dunk tank.
“Never give up on training that you want,” said Schuler, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse, “It took a lot of hard work and studying to accomplish, but I cannot wait to use this and save more lives.”
After completing the first phase of the training, which is done online, phase two challenges the students by hands-on training simulations.
The first training required the two-man team to prep a patient, in this case a mannequin, for transport by Black Hawk helicopter. Black Hawk noise simulation was a critical part of the training, making it hard to hear your buddy and complete tasks successfully. Realistic drills ensure trainees understand what obstacles need to be overcome to be successful in the field. The intense training had to be completed within a 20-minute window.
“You can never get tunnel vision - look at everything around you, mostly your patient, and trust your partner,” said Rosales, an emergency room (ER) nurse, and volunteer firefighter. “You have to rely on each other to complete the mission as a team and this is why you always keep up to date with your protocols.”
Schuler and Rosales passed the first scenario, holding one of the fastest times in the class at 19:30.
Like all military training, the first setup is a building block for the next trial.
The second situation was the blackout, simulating a night mission where no lights are used and where pilots would navigate using night vision goggles if it were a real world event. As a team, Schuler performed the medical assessment primarily by feel only, and when the time came, Rosales conducted her examination using a cell phone to create a short flash of light.
“It is amazing how you can just start working on a patient and know what you need to do,” said Rosales, “You have a job and your partner has a job and the two of you make it work to save lives as one.”
Another scenario that trainees must successfully complete is the dunk tank. An individual event, the dunk tank is a cage structure with a seat in it. The trainee is strapped in and flipped upside down. They then have to get unharnessed and escape out of a small hole. This simulates a crash over water where the service member is submerged. The key to survival is emotional control and a clear head.
Prior to getting into the tank, like all soldiers facing a daunting task, Schuler resolutely told himself, “I can do this.” And, again, like all Soldiers who complete adrenaline pumping challenges, immediately afterwards wanted to know when he could do it again.
Originally joining the military to pay for college and to share a military bond with his father, who was a Vietnam veteran, Shuler joined the U.S. Army in July 1992 as a Hawk missile crew member and served until 1996.
In September 2001, he rejoined the U.S. Army Reserve as a 68WM6, a combat medic, licensed vocational and practical nurse (LVN/LPN), a path that would cross over into a civilian career. He had no idea how much he would enjoy the journey from medic to LVN and LPN to being a registered nurse (RN).
“This course was amazing,” said Schuler, “Assessing and packaging a patient appropriately, while providing life saving measures quickly was one of the best things about being here.”
Rosales first joined the U.S. Army in March 2008 after completing RN school and has been an RN for the Army Reserve for 12 years. She joined the medical field to help people and wanted a stable place to call home and raise her children with strong values.
Speaking about her favorite part of the training Rosales said, “Taking care of them [patients] in flight and getting them to a higher level of care so they can go home.”
She reflected that honed skills and a fast response, almost a reflex, allows them to think outside the box when it comes to saving another person’s life.
“Knowing the signs before they happen allows you to always be two steps ahead and never behind,” said Rosales.
Both Schuler and Rosales completed the course May 29, 2020, and credited the 228th CSH training noncommissioned officer, Master Sgt. Jimmie Kellum, with being instrumental in getting into the course prior to their deployment.