WARSAW, Poland — With a team of just three makeup artists and extensive planning by the 30th Medical Brigade and Polish medical units, a mass casualty exercise during Poland's largest military exercise, Anakonda, brought to life the most dramatic side of the fog of war.
Medics from Polish, US and Albanian units rushed around a small area strewn with groaning soldiers with moulaged trauma injuries from facial burns to lacerations to limb loss, trying to assess and treat injuries as they were encountered. The wounded coughed, cried out and cursed as smoke continued to rise from a recent explosion.
The June 11 exercise at the massive Drawsko Pomorskie military training site in northwestern Poland simulated the aftermath of an explosion on the front lines with about 40 casualties and 60 injuries of various degrees.
It was designed to stress the Army's medical system "at every level of care" from the combat medic on the front line through the aid station and Combat Support Hospital, Col. William Stubbs, 30th Medical Brigade Commander, told Defense News after the event.
The operation kicked off with several huge blasts of C4 plastic explosives detonated in a field along a road as a convoy passed through.
Slowly the chaos calmed as the unit seemed to physically divide the injured on the field from severe to minor, sorting out what needed to be prioritized.
The medics then prepared to either evacuate the injured by air or by vehicle as a Polish medevac helicopter arrived first on the scene, about an hour after the blasts, and two US Army UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopters followed.
The exercise moved through the planned process for mass casualties where soldiers had to not only treat victims in the field but stabilize them for evacuation, call in evacuation assets — in this case both US and Polish — and move them to the next level of care, according to Stubbs.
The US and Polish units also conducted the operation using the same communications networks from tactical radios all the way up to the Polish Mission Network, Stubbs said. And in addition to flying in both Polish and US air assets for medical evacuation, the two countries also ran the combat support hospital side by side.
"This was not a staged or rehearsed exercise," Stubbs said, "but due to the technical nature of medicine there was lots of transference of knowledge that already exists and facilitates the interoperability of medical units to work together with a common goal to save lives."
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.