Belfast Telegraph

A different side of Las Vegas for medics in boot camp hell

By Rebecca Black

If you think that Las Vegas is just about gaudy casinos, tacky Elvis impersonators and road trips through shimmering deserts, think again.

For a group of army medics from Northern Ireland, it was hell on earth.

As they prepared for training through the bloodstained trauma of a war zone, Regimental Sergeant Major Glenn Reeves was happy to provide a rude awakening for anyone with thoughts of gambling their time away.

"Turn that phone off, I can hear it, I've got ears like a sh*** house rat," he roared at the lines of reservists perspiring in combat dress in the 100 degree heat.

Welcome to boot camp.

The civilian habit of staring at mobile phones for many hours a day is simply not tolerated here, and even a suspicion of a phone being on could earn you a fine. Instead, complete focus at all times is demanded, despite the heavy uniform in extreme heat.

Lining up for duty are members of 204 Field Hospital, including well-paid consultants who would enjoy a comfortable lifestyle at home. Yet they volunteer to give it all up regularly for a more spartan and punishing life.

The bright lights and temptations of Las Vegas were just a few miles away from the first phase of the training - the setting up of a field hospital in the desert and running through a scenario in which they had to cope with a large number of traumatic battle injuries.

Next it was adventure training, including a mountain biking exercise where one of the reservists took a bad fall off her bike. Then they had to shift their brains to cope with taking in the very latest in medical technology at Los Angeles County Hospital before a brutal training exercise at US Marine stomping ground Camp Pendleton.

At least plenty of sleep in comfortable beds might have eased the situation, but instead reservists slept on basic cots in bunk houses, up to 24 snoring bodies in each one, before the wake up call bright and early every morning at 6am, if not earlier.

The temperature was around 100 degrees even at 8am each morning when they lined up and stood to attention as the Stars and Stripes was raised and the US national anthem played.

Next, journalists were offered ear plugs as gas fired bird scares simulated gunfire as groups of reservists took part in a trauma treatment training exercise across the camp.

They started off in two lines carrying rubber guns - as heavy as the real thing - as if on patrol before the simulated bullets started flying and they dove to the ground for cover.

Next they crawled to find dummies mocked up to look like casualties with extremely serious injuries. As members of the US Navy shouted and played death metal music, the medics had to focus on patients as they fixed tourniquets to severed limbs and placed the casualties on to stretchers.

The shouting and music continued as the medics inspected their casualties, treating catastrophic bleeds and gently running their fingers over the torsos to feel for swelling and injuries under the surface that needed treatment, their faces furrowed in intense concentration.

Captain Rachel McAuley, a nurse on civvy street, and Captain Kelly Elliott, a doctor, emerged the exhilarated winners despite their faces and uniforms being streaked with mud, sweat and fake blood.

"It is nothing like this in the City Hospital," they laughed.

"There is no bluffing, the sounds effects and the atmosphere made it very realistic."

For the non medical members of the unit such as Markethill baker Corporal Adam McMahon, the training is even more essential to ensure he can provide top-class first aid.

The early mornings of camp were not a challenge for Adam who is used to getting up before first light to bake his day's produce, before going on to his teaching post - then he gives up many of his weekends for 204 Field Hospital.

But Adam insists it is all worth it, and the 15 years he has served is convincing evidence of this.

Belfast Telegraph

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