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NEWS | Aug. 17, 2023

Navy and Air Force Join Forces for Medical Training at Operation Blue Horizon

By Cmdr. Michael D. Bay, MSC

Navy Reserve and Air Force Reserve joined forces at MacDill Air Force Base, Jan. 30 to Feb. 10, for a combat medical training scenario called Operation Blue Horizon. 

Operation Blue Horizon follows previous successful joint training exercises like Rainier Med II in 2018, Tropical Halo 2019, Pacific Caduceus 2021 and 2022, involving medical professionals from the Navy and Air Force Reserve. As in the previous exercises, the goal of Blue Horizon was to continue efforts to align the operational readiness mission of Navy Reserve medicine with the Navy Surgeon General’s objectives for joint medical partnerships.

Reserve medical professionals trained under very realistic combat stress scenarios, just as they would if they were on a real battlefield.  

“It’s critical for training to be as practical and chaotic as possible to give each student a realistic perspective of environments in which they might have to provide medical care," said Lt. Cmdr. Cameron Cushenbery, who serves as the TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care) program director. "We strive to provide 'shock value' during training so that students can learn to think clearly under extremely stressful situations."

Service members in the TCCC course went through two days of didactic training, which included practical exercises, before engaging in an intense field final exam (FINEX). There were two FINEX scenarios, one consisting of a simulated C-130 Hercules aircraft crash on an active flight line, where members were required to treat wounded, in a low visibility, breathing restricted environment.  After treatment of wounded on flight line, members were then required to demonstrate they could successfully transport the wounded to a UH-60 Blackhawk rotor wing aircraft for evacuation. All of this was accomplished as stressors, often involving screaming and yelling, were applied as they would be the case in a real life incident. Students must learn to assess the situation quickly, overcome hesitancy and learn to ignore the chaos with one focus in mind: saving the wounded. The second FINEX scenario was equally chaotic, requiring members to treat wounded in a training warehouse during a simulated active shooter emergency.

115 navy Sailors and 5 airmen completed the training.

Another vital training platform at Blue Horizon was Trauma Nursing Care Course (TNCC) which provides registered nurses with the core knowledge of triage and managing battlefield wounded. Participants were Navy Nurse Corps members as well as nurses from the USAF 6th Medical Group and Air Force Reserve 927 Aeromedical Staging Squadron.  The training featured facilitated discussions, small group exercises and hands-on skill stations to provide nurses with a systematic process to trauma care, such as biomechanics of injury, general patient assessment, epidemiology, airway, shock treatment, traumatic brain and skeletal injuries, and learning how to incorporate an integrated approach to trauma treatment.  Training also included various components of patient movement such as ground and rotary wing air transport.

“Our goal is to improve patient outcomes, ultimately providing the best care possible to our service men and women," said LCDR Caroline Collins, TNCC Course Director. "Blue Horizon offers a joint training environment for military nurses to gain foundational knowledge necessary to function as a member of a trauma team." 

TNCC was comprised of 46 Navy and 7 Air Force participants.

In addition to TCCC and TNCC, Blue Horizon also featured the training platform Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) which was conducted at the University of South Florida Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS). ATLS is a continuing medical education program designed to treat wounded during the “golden hour”, a term for the time following traumatic injury when the probability of death is often at its highest occurrence. This course required participants to demonstrate concepts and principles of primary and secondary patient assessment and establish management priorities in a trauma situation. Furthermore, participants must identify the essential steps to be taken during the “golden hour” for the emergency management of acute life threatening conditions. The course is completed after participants successfully pass a simulated clinical and surgical practicum where their skills to assess and treat patients with multiple injuries can be demonstrated. 

The ATLS course successfully trained 14 Navy Sailors, 8 Airmen, and 1 Army Soldier.

With a significant percentage of the military’s medical personnel serving in the Reserve, exercises such as Blue Horizon and Pacific Caduceus are of great importance to developing the battlefield readiness.  While each service branch may have their own unique way of providing medical care, the joint training scenario of these exercises helps to foster relationships which may be the foundation for operational planning for future medical missions.