What it’s like preparing for war

Staff Sgt. Jason Peters explains how to care for an injured soldier during a triage exercise for pre-deployment training Friday at Cannon Air Force Base.(Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — As I walked toward the wounded with a medical bag in hand Friday, I couldn’t help but shudder at how badly one of the victims looked.

Her eye was dangling out of its socket a good 6 inches (at least the makeup and fake eye made it look that way). Her shin bone was protruding from the skin. She had blood stains all over her body. And unfortunately she was conscious, which according to Cannon Air Force Base officials can sometimes make matters tougher.

“Help. Help. Help,” the woman muttered.

As part of a training session for members of the media to better understand how the Air Force prepares its own before war-time deployment, a reporter from Amarillo and myself had to make the call: Help this woman now or go check on another victim about 15 yards away and then make a decision.

We decided to provide first aid to the woman and check on the other wounded later.

In a sense, it was the wrong decision.

Just minutes before the exercise, Staff Sgt. Jason Peters had taught us about triage, a method of analyzing a group of wounded soldiers to help decide which victim to bring aid to first.

Peters will be conducting similar training sessions for roughly 400 Cannon enlisted scheduled to deploy within the next few weeks.

The enlisted will learn how to splint legs, dress wounds and transport wounded military to ambulances in the field. They’ll also learn about triage and how to tag wounded soldiers in the field: A black tag means they’re likely going to die; a green tag is for minimal damage; a red tag means a soldier needs urgent medical care; and a yellow tag is somewhere between urgent and minimal.

Prior to the medical training session, I got the opportunity to try on a chemical warfare mask and suit, learn about how to test for chemical agents in a war zone and how serums reverse the affects of nerve agents.

Senior Airman Mike Day said anytime there is a high threat of chemical agents in a war zone, deployed soldiers are required to carry a gas mask with them at all times.

The last time a chemical agent was used in a war was in World War I, so Day said not all enlisted personnel pay close attention to the training if they aren’t scheduled for deployment. But when they are scheduled to deploy, especially to a combat zone, he said they’re pretty attentive.

When America first invaded Iraq, Day said the threat of chemical warfare was high.

“There were a few false alarms at the beginning of war,” he said.

After viewing a picture of what blister agent can do to a body, I can understand why.

Day described blister agent — a chemical that causes one’s body to break out in blisters — as extremely painful. But military technology helps safeguard soldiers from the threat of chemical warfare.

All Air Force enlisted are given M-8 paper when deployed in a conflict, Day said. The paper tests for nerve and blister agents through color coding.

If chemical agents are spotted, troops are required to put on a chemical mask in nine seconds and a chemical suit in about eight minutes.

Sounds easy? Not exactly.

While I was able to get my mask out of its pouch and on my face within nine seconds, I forgot an important step, making sure my mask was tight and chemical agents couldn’t penetrate.

The chemical suit was a bit harder, but manageable.
Day said troops react differently in times of stress. If it were a real threat, Day said, I would have been moving faster.