By Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Loany M. Saldivar, executive assistant, Primary Care/Branch Health Clinics, Medical Services, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
United States Army South recently did an exercise in Guatemala that increases Guatemalan border security in an effort to decrease the War on Drugs. For this mission, the Army requested some facilitator assistance from Navy corpsmen who had field experience or had been to a Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) course.
I don’t have the field experience, but I have attended the course a few years ago and in my 10 years of active duty service I have been an Individual Augmentee, was stationed on a carrier, and even attended an accelerated Emergency Medicine Technician course at one of the local colleges here in Virginia.
I may not have had the actual field experience but I consider myself pretty on point when it comes to emergency response. To add to my resume, I also feel very comfortable facilitating large crowds. Oh, and did I mention I speak Spanish? Well, I am originally from Honduras, born and raised until age nine. So you can imagine that when the mission was offered, I couldn’t jump up and voice my interest fast enough!
When the two other Navy members and I arrived to Guatemala the Army personnel and the Chapines (a nickname for Guatemalan natives) were very welcoming. Honestly, I didn’t expect anything less. In Hispanic cultures everyone is automatically family. We arrived on a Sunday and immediately got to work ─ it was a very exhausting day.
Sunday night we had to prepare the classroom and our material for class and by Monday morning at 0800 we were rolling into our introductions and TCCC material. Our timeline was to review the material in class, hold practicals, and by the end of the week we were testing the students on trauma lanes.
The responsiveness and eagerness to learn that the soldiers and police showed was more than exceptional. Every day was a long day, sometimes giving break sessions just to grab dinner and return back to the classroom for more hands on practice. The lessons consisted of care under fire, hemorrhaging, airway, open chest wounds, tension pneumothorax with needle decompression, circulation (pulse, motor and sensibility), fractures, and shock.
These lessons were easily abbreviated to MARCH. March represented each condition in the order of precedence; M- Massivo Sangrado, A- Via Aera, R- Respiracion, C- Circulacion, and Hipotermia/Shock. The acronym was a new way style of remembering the order of conditions for the Navy folk, but we quickly adapted to it and embraced it.
From my experience in Guatemala and working with the Army, all I can say is that I can’t wait to get another opportunity to do something like this again. To know you are doing something that is going to not just help the troops in another country but to give them a skill that can be utilized in their communities is indescribable. These newly trained soldiers and policemen (don’t be fooled with the generalized representation of the word “men”, there were females there too) will be able to be first responders in emergencies and possibly save a life. Isn’t this why most of us do what we do, to see others project and emulate our hard work?
As one of my mentors, Master Chief Anna Sanzone told me recently (she will probably come find me once she reads this), “Shipmate – follow through on your leadership and other leaders will begin to follow your lead. Leadership, Leader, Lead. No pressure.”
In closing, if you ever find yourself with an opportunity to get out of your cave- TAKE IT! There is nothing to lose; there is only something to gain. And if nothing, at least you have a few cool and funny stories to tell. Also, when you get the chance, look up Kaibil and read the story of the indigenous Guatemalan leader who escaped Spanish capture. He was never found (dead or alive), and for this reason his courage and strength is still believed to be roaming in the jungles of Guatemala. The story was told to us by a Kaibil Special Forces Officer himself (the Red Berets).