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NEWS | April 18, 2015

MRTC Soldiers partner with Weber County, Utah search and rescue volunteers

By Story by Staff Sgt. Neil W. McCabe Army Reserve Medical Command

OGDEN, Utah - Soldiers of the Medical Readiness and Training Command's 2nd Medical Training Brigade, based at Fort Douglas, Utah, partnered with the Weber County, Utah Sheriff's Department for an April 18 wilderness rescue exercise on the county's hilly terrain.

The Soldiers supported the exercise by providing realistic Hollywood-style make-up for mock injuries and served as observer controller-trainers for the department's search and rescue volunteers, said Master Sgt. Robert A. Kilgallon, one of the OCT's, who evaluated the volunteers.

Kilgallon said the volunteers were told that a group of student hikers were caught in a ferocious storm and scattered through a wooded area just outside of Ogden, a city one hour north of Salt Lake City on the Great Salt Lake's eastern shore.

Local youngsters, who volunteered to role play victims, were assigned injuries, such as an eyeball popped out of its socket, a stick impaled into a neck as well as broken bones and one fatality, he said. The search and rescue teams were directed to follow a path through the woods, where they would find victims spread out along the way in three distinct clearings.

While the majority of the search and rescue volunteers set out on foot, a dozen volunteers on horseback patrolled the exercise perimeter. After they had completed their rounds, the horseback rescuers rode over to the role players, letting the youngsters pet the horses and giving them short rides.

Weber County Sheriff Department Lt. Lane Findley said working with the MRTC raised the seriousness of the exercise and brought a higher level of professionalism.

Findley said the effort to create the mock injuries made the exercise more intense for the volunteers. “It was as realistic as you could get.”

April Reeves, 18, the role player with a stick stuck in her neck, said it took 10 minutes to have the makeup applied. “I have already taken a ton of selfies of it.”

Manning clipboards with score sheets, the OCT's followed the volunteers as they came upon victims and identified and treated their injuries. At different times during the treatment process, the OCT's asked questions to gauge the volunteer's knowledge or prompt the volunteer to perform a step they missed.

Ryan Stark, search and rescue volunteer, said he appreciated the expertise that the Army Reserve Soldiers brought to the exercise. “They really are a great bunch of guys to work with.”

The knowledge the Soldiers shared with the volunteers will go a long way to help them respond to a real emergency, said the Ogden resident, who joined the search and rescue team in 1991, so he could give back to the community.

Adding to the scenario, the role players acted out the pain of their mock injuries and spoke to the rescuers with heightened anxiety, so as to create more stress on the volunteer.

At one point, though, the boy with a mock eye ball out of its socket complained that he had a real itch under the fake injury that he was trying to ignore.

Jeff Kiernan, a search and rescue volunteer with the Weber County, Utah Sheriff's Department treated the eyeball injury and he said after he checked out the boy for other injuries, he moved to the eye wound.

“His vitals were good, so it was just about packaging it up and shipping him out,” he said. 

The tricky part while bandaging the wound was at the same time stabilizing the loose eye and keeping the area moist, he said.

The brigade commander, Col. Brian R. Benjamin, said one of the mission's of the MRTC, which is headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, is to provide the active-duty Army with OCT's at large exercises sponsored by Army North and other military organizations. 

Benjamin said working with the Weber County search and rescue team helps his Soldiers keep their own skills honed.

“The experience here really allows our folks to get involved with real search and rescue personnel—real individuals, who go out and do this if there was a real emergency,” he said.

Another advantage of the exercise was to interact with the local civilian first responders, he said. In 2012, the Army Reserve was given the new mission of assisting the Defense Department's support of civil authorities. “Working with the local county shows them what MRTC has to offer as we help them evaluate what they do on the ground.”