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Story by Staff Sgt. Bryan Peterson
NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy – Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric G. Christiansen knows the reality of saving lives in combat and he wants to make sure Marines receive the same knowledge.
While on a mission north of the Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan in 2012, Christiansen was patrolling with soldiers attached to the U.S. Army’s V Corps, alongside Afghan National Army soldiers, when an improvised explosive device detonated. He was the only corpsman or medic, as the Army calls them, on the patrol.
“I remember we had to get to the soldier who stepped on the pressure plate, immediately,” stressed Christiansen. “He was severely injured.”
Christiansen and the men had to clear more than 100 yards to reach the soldier on the ground. Upon arriving to the casualty, he immediately pulled his tourniquets out and applied them to the injured soldier’s right leg and left arm, both amputated from the blast, to stop the bleeding.
“It was a matter of seconds,” he remembered.
That’s what Christiansen and five corpsmen and medical officers stressed to 28 Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa during a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course, Dec. 14-18, at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy.
Throughout the week, the Marines learned how to use combat application tourniquets, a nasopharyngeal airway device, how to treat sucking chest wounds with needle decompressions, how to apply splints on fractures, when to administer oral antibiotics and pain medication, calling in medical evacuations over military communications and how to properly carry patients.
Marines were put to the test on the final day of instruction, vaguely similar to what Christiansen experienced in Afghanistan. The sailors had the Marines conduct five minutes of strenuous exercise to get their heart rates up, followed by a loud verbal “boom” from the corpsmen. The Marines immediately moved toward the mannequin, assessed it and applied tourniquets and splints. The Marines then took the simulated casualty to the extraction point.
“Today was a mimic of that because this is really nothing different than what service members experienced the past 14 years on the battlefield,” said Christiansen. “It was all about trying to make it real as possible for them.”
Christiansen said a normal patrol, depending on the size, will have one or two corpsmen with the Marines. He added if even one corpsman is injured, the whole unit could be in trouble.
“We would be ineffective,” he said. “That’s why we are doing this. This is why we need to have Marines, preferably all of them, trained on this because they may be closer to the injured Marine or even corpsman and their actions can save someone’s life.”
Corporal Garret E. Miller, a radio technician with SPMAGT-CR-AF, participated in the course for the reasons Christiansen said: “to know what to do if he is ever caught in a situation.”
Visibly exhausted, sweating profusely and taking moments to catch his breath, Miller said the course was taxing, yet, fulfilling to know he has the knowledge if he ever finds himself in a similar situation.
“I won’t lie, I was a little nervous beforehand because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Miller. “But, as long as you know what you’re doing and you’re sure of yourself, you’ll be fine. I mean, the corpsmen made the scenario as real as it could be. There’s no time to think, it’s just you reacting. We learned a lot here this past week and I’m extremely confident in my new abilities because we have some very knowledgeable corpsmen who taught us.”
Christiansen said any one of these Marines could go on a crisis response or theater security cooperation mission in Africa and a Marine may get injured during operations and they need to be prepared as a corpsman may not hear the battle cry “corpsman up!”
“I’ve been to too many memorial ceremonies in Afghanistan where we said our goodbyes before our fallen brothers made their final trek home,” said Christiansen. “So, when I was asked what type of training we could be doing while here in Italy, this is the first thing I said we should train the Marines. I love taking care of Marines and it’s why I keep doing this. This is what I wake up every morning to do which is making sure every one of them gets to come home.”