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FORT IRWIN, CA - Approximately 3,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers will be in Afghanistan by Thanksgiving. Right now, those troops are polishing their skills at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.
Each unit of the guard is working on training specific to their mission. The medics are practicing various treatment techniques for just about any kind of injury they might encounter. The practice often involves a role-playing scenario where one medic acts as a patient while the others diagnose and treat the problem.
As an ambulance races into the medical area, soldiers rush to stabilize their wounded comrade as the scenario begins. SSgt. Laura Schiltz, 24, of Osceola, serving with the C Company of the 334 BSB, pretends to be unconscious.
"The patient may not be able to speak, but their body tells us with their vital signs what their body is doing," Sgt. Tony Pous-Ojeda, 31, of Ankeny, serving with the C Company of the 334 BSB, said.
Medics scramble to position the patient and diagnose the problem.
"When the patient is right in front of you, they need your care. You're going to know what to do because we've practiced so many times," SSgt. Jessica Beswick, 27, of Iowa City, and serving with the C Company of the 334 BSB said.
Medics have all kinds of drugs with them out in the field ranging from athlete's foot cream to aspirin.
"I try to think about focusing on the injury and what treatments I need to provide," Pous-Ojeda said.
Schiltz volunteered to be the patient for this training exercise because her veins are tiny. It makes the scenario tougher for her fellow medics.
"It's really easy to get a stick if somebody's got a big, juicy vein. So, I like to let them practice on me," Schiltz said.
Once everyone discovers Schiltz's leg needs help, one crew treats the injury while another checks her vital signs.
"We try to mimic as best as we can so that when we do get into country, we can perform at our peak," Pous-Ojeda said.
Beswick added, "You have to be calm. You know what you're doing."
Minutes later, medics stabilize the patient and leave her with a good feeling.
"I am very confident that if I did have an injury, I would be ok in these hands," Schiltz said. "I think everything went smoothly and I couldn't have asked for more."
By building this kind of trust in training, real-life injuries won't faze the soldiers on the battlefield.
When a large or overwhelming number of soldiers get injured, medics must prioritize which men and women need treatment immediately, which ones can wait and which ones can't be saved.
It's a situation they never want to encounter in the Middle East.