Expeditionary Surgical Unit Supports African Lion in Morocco
By Maj. Paul Greenberg, Marine Forces Reserve
NEW ORLEANS, La. – U.S. Marine Corps and Navy reservists from 4th Medical Battalion deployed to Cap Draa training area in southwestern Morocco in late May to set up a Forward Resuscitative Surgical Suite (FRSS) trauma center as part of exercise African Lion 2010.
This new life-saving capability provides trauma and surgical care to Marines and Sailors in an expeditionary environment.
Lt. Cmdr. Hank Deters from the battalion’s detachment in Pittsburgh, Pa., was the officer-in-charge of the FRSS team in Morocco.
“Level one care is corpsman care on the battlefield,” explained Deters. “Level two trauma care is what we do, usually in two tents with a surgical bed, a refrigerator for the blood, a ventilator with an anesthesiologist, and other specialized equipment.”
From the time they arrive at a forward operating base, a FRSS can typically set up their tents and equipment and be ready to receive patients within one hour, according to Deters.
“You just do what you have to in order to save the patient’s life. During the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, up to 25 percent of our wounded were dying on the way to the hospital. This is saving that 25 percent,” said Deters.
Cpl. Saundra Rosenbalm from Knoxville, Tenn., is an ambulance driver on the FRSS. She moves patients from the point of injury to the FRSS for treatment. After surgery, she takes the patient from the FRSS to the pick-up point.
But Rosenbalm is more than just a driver. During surgery, she and the FRSS team’s other Marines stand guard over the operating tents, providing security and ensuring that no one brings weapons into the operating tents.
“We keep everyone else out so the docs can do their jobs,” Rosenbalm said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenneth Justice is team leader for the first medical team on the FRSS. His team receives patients in the “pre-op” tent and prepares them for surgery.
“We also see patients when they come out of surgery and prep them for medevac,” said Justice. “We ‘package’ the patients by securing all medical devices such as (intravenous) bags and oxygen tanks. We wrap them like a tamale in a flight blanket and get them ready to put on the helicopter or tactical ambulance.”
The FRSS had the chance to perform an actual surgery on a Marine who had an abscess on his sacrum at the remote training area June 4. After several days of recovery, the reservist returned to full duty and was able to continue training with his unit.
The Marines and Sailors of the FRSS team returned to the States in mid-June, when African Lion concluded.
Some FRSS members will be back for African Lion 2011, or will participate in different theater security cooperation exercises in Africa, Asia or South America instead.
Others will mobilize and deploy to Afghanistan or Djibouti in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Regardless of where the troops go, they will bring a unique life-saving capability to the Armed Forces of the United States and their allies in expeditionary environments throughout the world.