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Petty Officer 3rd Class Salvador Bautista, a corpsman with Company I, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, maneuvers through the snow at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., near the Goose training area to set up a warming station during a Cold Weather Medicine Course Jan. 14, 2009.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Corpsmen, Marines prep for Afghan terrain

24 Jan 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

At the base of a snow-covered hill, the five-man team of corpsmen could see a sprawled and unconscious body sticking out of the snow. Using their skis and ski poles, they raced to the aid of the victim and prepared their sled to transfer the patient to the warming station half-a-mile up the mountain.

These corpsmen, and Marines from all over the world, are students in an exclusive training evolution offered at MWTC called the Cold Weather Medicine course.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Nate Monteil, a mountain warfare formal schools instructor, explained the importance of the information taught in the CWM course.

“The course teaches these students how to exist, operate and perform CASEVACs [casualty evacuations], and movement in mountainous or high altitude terrain,” said Monteil, a Longmont, Colo., native.

During the casualty assessment and evacuation portion of the course, a designated group of students were given coordinates of the location of the notionally injured party. Using a compass and map, the team maneuvered through woods, snow and hills to find their patient.

Once the patient was found, an instructor briefed the team with a physical assessment of the mock patient’s condition and injuries. Based on the assessment, the team treated the patient, stabilized him, and secured him to a sled to be transferred to the warmth and safety of their camp station.

If the team took too long to strap the patient to the sled or if they left him exposed to the cold for too long, an instructor would inform the team of the patient’s depleting health conditions.

The teams were then given an evaluation of their performance at the end of the exercise.

The student body normally consists of corpsmen, but other service members may enroll in the course through the Naval Operational Medical Institute based out of Pensacola, Fla.

Throughout the 12-day course, first-time students like Petty Officer 3rd Class Trey Gregory, the assistant lead petty officer with 7th Marine Regiment based at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., learned winter survival techniques he could not have learned at his home station in the heart of the Mojave Desert.

Gregory said he learned treatments and symptoms of high altitude sickness and cold weather injuries as well as mountainous terrain movement.

“We learn things like this so we can move through mountains and get to patients who may need treatment,” said Gregory, an Albuquerque, N.M., native. “I also learned that my body can be a lot colder than I thought before it gets frostbite.”

Sgt. Jon Welch, a cold weather medicine instructor at MWTC, gave the students their shelter and fire-building techniques class on their second-to last day of the course.

Welch went over details such as needing ventilation in snow shelters and fire pits to keep clean air circulating, building the best protection from wind, using natural terrain such as fallen trees and rock formations as shelters, avalanche safety, and gathering tinder and wood for fires without compromising concealment.

Cmdr. Joe Kochan, a medical officer with the Operational Health Support Unit of the Great Lakes in Detroit, said although he has conducted cold weather training before, it was not as in depth as the CWM.

“Now I have a better appreciation of what our current warfighters are going through in Afghanistan,” said Kochan, a Lansing, Mich., native. “This is definitely the most physically challenging and most rewarding training I’ve ever done.”

He added the survival tips given to him and the other students on building fires, night survival, avalanche safety and shelter were surprisingly common sense-based.

“A lot of the information they gave us I wouldn’t have thought of prior to coming here,” added Kochan.

As the students received their graduation certificates, they also received the responsibility of bringing that training to their home units to better prepare their service members for combat operations in Afghanistan.


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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms