Three Wyoming Guard soldiers visited Tunisian doctors and aviators Feb. 2-10, to talk about how the Cowboy State conducts medical evacuations in combat operations. The information exchange was part of the State Partnership Program.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Brandon Erdmann, a UH-60 pilot; Sgt. Corey Bates, a medic; and Sgt. 1st Class Nevada Popp, a crew chief and enlisted flight instructor, all with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation, visited Tunisia to talk about each organizations’ best practices.
While Army medics begin moving the patient right way, during which they start treatment, the Tunisians follow the French model. They do not have medics but instead use physicians and nurses. Such a practice can inhibit rapid care because it involves the search for an on-call doctor, who must then gather equipment, and get set up in the aircraft. The practice also calls for stabilizing a patient before boarding an aircraft.
“We don’t like to stay in play; we like to grab the patient and just go,” Bates said. “In France, they like to stay in play because they’re doctors. Once they’re stabilized on the scene, then they move them onto the aircraft. So, then we talked about them not wanting to be out there because they could be shot.”
During the visit, the Tunisian military talked about its ongoing initiative to develop medical evacuation capabilities in the Tunisian Air Force, specifically No. 36 Squadron, based in Bizerte. The country’s military currently doesn’t have dedicated Medevac support. “That’s been somewhat problematic for them over the years because they have a very tactical mindset” when it comes to using their aircraft, Erdmann said. “They follow the French model for evacuating casualties.”
According to Erdmann, from an aviation standpoint, Wyoming has been involved with Tunisia in the SPP since 2007. The program began in 2004. Since then, “there have been multiple exchanges with the Tunisians coming over to visit our operations, primarily when they looked at buying the UH-60 helicopter as the platform to replace their H-3s.”
While in Tunisia, Wyoming’s soldiers spent two days with the No. 36 Squadron, the same unit they first met 12 years ago.
In 2018, the Tunisians ran a total of 18 medical evacuations in an area roughly the size of Georgia. Lofty goals for the country, according to Erdmann, call for establishing a Medevac hub in North Africa.
According to Erdmann, a Tunisian slideshow presentation pointed out that missions would not solely be used for soldiers, but for civilians as well. In other words not strictly for military use. “So, they would have regionally based platforms that would respond to both military and civilian accidents,” he said.
“This visit was to show them how we do Medevac,” Popp said. “They’re very interested in the role of the medics, because they do combat lifesaving for all the troops but that’s it. Unless there’s a physician that happens to be out there with them, they have no other medical care.”
As Erdmann suggested, that means the Tunisians might consider certifying soldiers as paramedics or employing civilian healthcare workers to become soldiers.
Among other issues, the Wyoming soldiers addressed a lack of communication. “Helmets and headsets is something new for them,” Popp said. “They were very receptive to our input, though, when Sgt. Bates set up the aircraft. That was along the lines of what they were looking for. Actually seeing it in person—it was like a light-bulb moment of, saying, ‘this would work. This is how it should be.’ ”
Erdmann added, “Some of the equipment they were sold with the aircraft is not conducive for battlefield casualty evacuation. Imparting an understanding that you don’t have to use something. There are other things, other ways to do this, that don’t limit your application of weapons systems. I think that was good. You can still accomplish both things.”
So, what’s next for Tunisia and Wyoming?
In the long term. “This whole program was just a sharing of knowledge, essentially,” Erdmann said. “It’s going to be up to them to use what we have shown them, and just work that into their own system. Until they formally standardize that across their fleet, there’s not a lot we can do. Also, limiting the role of physicians and giving some of that authority to flight medics—that is going to be a really big doctrinal change for them.”