JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — Sgt. Alvaro Acosta scheduled a mole removal surgery at Madigan Army Medical Center on Wednesday in an unusual place: a parking lot crowded with Humvees and heavy trucks.
He trusted he would get clean and professional care from his doctors, who were working in a temporary 90,000-square-foot field hospital.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord medical teams are using it this week to practice their work in conditions they’ll see if deployed again to a combat zone or to a natural disaster.
The field exercise was meant to benefit about 160 soldiers assigned to the 47th Combat Support Hospital. The unit is made up of surgeons, nurses and medical specialists who can deploy as a full-scale medical battalion or in smaller groups.
“We’re getting a feel for our field equipment,” said Maj. John Cheatwood, a nurse who has gone three times to Afghanistan.
Some procedures were more complex than Acosta’s. One soldier had a bullet from a long-ago wound removed from his buttocks.
In other cases, surgeons led training exercises to help younger physician assistants learn the right procedures to bring a patient in from a disaster. They started with ultrasounds to see if there was internal bleeding or injuries that wouldn’t be apparent on the surface.
That’s an important skill, Cheatwood said, if doctors must help patients injured in an earthquake or tsunami whose injuries would not necessarily be visible.
“A lot of the lessons we learned from treating trauma (in combat) are filtering out to the civilian world,” he said.
The 47th Combat Support Hospital was one of the first Army units from South Sound to deploy for the Iraq War. They worked from a tent-based structure just like the one they used at Lewis-McChord this week, said Maj. Brendon Watson, the unit’s executive officer.
He remembers because he was there, operating out of a field hospital in the Kuwaiti desert. He and Cheatwood said they’ve seen Army medicine significantly improve through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with better care for wounded soldiers on the ground and at military hospitals at every stop along the way home.
“We can save lives in ways that we never thought were possible,” Watson said.
The 47th CSH deployed four times to Iraq.
This week’s temporary hospital contained 44 beds and a mix of field equipment, including an X-ray machine. The whole operation is intended to be up and running within 72 hours.
Some soldiers seemed to enjoy the practice and the change of scene.
“It helps us come together as a family,” said Spc. Marcial Dino, 23, who has deployed with the field hospital to Iraq.