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NEWS | Sept. 14, 2022

Mountain Medic 22 exercise embodies total force construct, ends successfully

By Laura Fitzmorris 302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Exercise Mountain Medic 22 wrapped up a few weeks ago after successfully incorporating multiple branches of military, several key players and both Army and Air Force aircraft in Colorado Springs, Aug. 16-26, 2022.

The main goal of the exercise was to improve on and reinforce medical evacuation operations and skillsets to ensure the most effective and efficient medical care in a realistic joint environment. Another focus was facilitating the sharing and leveraging of lessons learned and best practices among the various service branches, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jennifer Housholder, Army Reserve Aviation Command exercise planning officer in charge.

“Medical care is inherently a joint endeavor, and MEDEVAC and aeromedical operations have unique and specific requirements that need emphasis and are not otherwise fully exercised in existing exercises,” said Housholder. “Additionally, Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command, has directed us to conduct training that gets after the company level mission essential tasks outlined in their specific mission essential task list.”

Falling in line with those METs, MM 22 engaged in performing aeromedical flight operations functions, performing missions within airspace coordinating measures, treating casualties, managing aeromedical evacuation support activities and more. Dependence on space capabilities roped in local U.S. Space Force units as well.

“Given that a near peer-to-peer combat scenario will likely result in degradation or full denial of critical capabilities afforded by Space Force, aviation units need a realistic training environment to be able to plan for contingencies,” said Housholder. “They also need to recognize when these capabilities are being affected and leverage codified tactics, techniques and procedures, including those provided by a Space Force operations squadron, in response.”

According to U.S. Space Force Capt. Andrew Johnson, 2nd Space Operations Squadron joint warfighter collaboration cell flight commander, working with members of the joint community affords space operators the opportunity to see exactly how they use space effects.

“That motivates a lot of us to deliver the best performance that we can, day after day,” said Johnson. “Looking at the bigger picture, GPS and satellite communications serve as a great entry point for the joint community to integrate with the Space Force. While the ‘outside’ world is still getting used to the idea of a Space Force, Delta 8 has been providing space effects to the world for a long time. I think we can use that familiarity to introduce our joint and coalition partners to a lot of other Space Force capabilities.”

Several aircraft also assisted in MM 22, including HH-60M Black Hawks, UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47F Chinooks and a C-130 Hercules. Pilots, aircrew and medical teams were able to practice airlifting patients from mountainous terrain to bring them back to a safe location.

“We landed our C-130 on Red Devil LZ, a short dirt runway in the middle of the Fort Carson training complex,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James “Jim” Jirele, 302nd Operations Support Squadron chief of current operations. “All around us were helicopters bringing in patients from the mass casualty exercise that was simulated many miles away. These patients were then airlifted out of the Red Devil LZ on our C-130. Enroute to the destination, the aero-med nurses and med-techs performed medical services for those patients, practicing their skills for future real-life missions.”

Exercise participants operated multiple aircraft and types throughout Colorado Springs, specifically Fort Carson’s range, south to Pueblo, northeast to Peterson Space Force Base and northeast to the United States Air Force Academy with zero safety incidents and 100 percent accountability of all aircrew, medical personnel, and live role players, according to Housholder. Medical personnel from both the Army and Air Force Reserve expressed how the exercise taught them how to better operate in a real-world scenario.

“It helped us exercise joint medical capabilities practicing engine running patient offloads between UH-60s and C-130s, with multiple stops and large patient loads,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Elizabeth Norte, 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron operations support flight commander. “We got the opportunity to train with Army ground and flight medics and see what their scope of practice is.”

U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Burton, 7-158 General Support Aviation Battalion critical care flight paramedic, said it was difficult to pinpoint how important the training was.

“You can’t sit in a schoolhouse and learn these things that we learned during the exercise,” said Burton. “We had a bunch of brand-new medics doing things that they’ve never done. They’ve read through textbooks, taken tests and done work on mannequins, but to have them work on live role players has been invaluable.”

With a team made up of reservists from both branches, unique skillsets are brought to the field as well, according to U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Bjoern “Jens” Pietrzyk, 7-158 General Support Aviation Battalion critical care flight paramedic.

“The majority of my flight medics all work as civilian paramedics. The surgical team staff are civilian doctors. The knowledge sharing that comes from that civilian side into an environment like this is unmatched,” said Pietrzyk, “Working with the Air Force and seeing what they bring to the fight versus the Army opened our eyes to how much more they can do. So now, we know their capabilities and we can activate them earlier and use them more on the battlefield.”

When asked if she thought the exercise was a success, Housholder answered with an emphatic ‘yes!’

“The cooperation and coordination between the Army Reserve and Air Force Reserve was fantastic and, altogether, inspiring,” said Housholder. “Both branches showed up in tremendous ways to make this exercise a success, and I believe that will be fundamental for next year’s exercise.”

The 10-day exercise spanned a wide range of the Colorado Springs area, from mountain ranges to runways and classrooms, allowing members to experience real-world deployment contingencies.

“I think it was an amazing exercise,” said Pietrzyk. “We’re all tired, but it was definitely worth it. I learned a lot, and that’s what this is all about.”