Thursday, January 24, 2008

Forward surgical team goes airborne

(photo by Len Winiarski)
Staff Sgt. David Beville, right, inspects the parachute of Spc. Andrew Finkler before a jump over Germany. The 67th Forward Surgical Team recently attained airborne status and was accordingly allowed to don the maroon beret. Beville is assigned to the 5th Quartermaster Company and Finkler is assigned to the 67th FST (Airborne).
The 67th Forward Surgical Team will leap into the new year.

During an Airborne Conversion Ceremony Dec. 11 at Miesau Ammo Depot, Germany, 20 medical Soldiers from the newly designated 67th FST (Airborne) proudly donned the maroon beret distinguishing them as the only airborne forward surgical team in Europe and one of only five Army-wide.

‘‘There are few opportunities to wear this beret,” said Lt. Col. Laura Favand, 67th FST commander. ‘‘We do feel honored.”

The honor translates into an already lean and mobile medical team taking it to the next level. In their case, it means parachuting into combat with the medical specialties and equipment to provide immediate trauma care near the battlefield.

After initial medical aid by a fellow Soldier or medic on the battlefield, a Forward Surgical Team is often the second level of care in places such as Iraq. The teams are designed for what is termed the ‘‘golden hour,”or the first hour after a Soldier is wounded when they are most likely to die from shock and bleeding. Favand said their main focus is to stop any bleeding and stabilize patients for transport to the next level of care at Combat Support Hospitals.

The 67th FST (Airborne) can be condensed into six Humvees with trailers with enough supplies to self-sustain for 72 hours. About half the team and the most essential equipment is designed to arrive by parachute; the remaining staff and gear land with the aircraft and then link up by overland travel. The 67th can tailor itself to match the projected needs of the military unit it accompanies.

Achieving the level of expertise to provide such support doesn’t come easily. Earning their jump wings requires three weeks of intense training at Fort Benning, Ga., with its physical fitness standards geared more toward 18-year-olds.

At age 40, Favand laughed that she is ‘‘the old lady of the airborne school” but successfully accomplished earning the jump wings she wanted to achieve in Reserve Officer Training Corps but didn’t have the opportunity.

In the future, Favand and her team will have ample opportunity to maintain their jump status with monthly jumps, as well as learning to rig up heavy equipment such as Humvees.

Although parachuting is new to the current members of the 67th FST (Airborne) at Miesau, it isn’t new to their predecessors. Based on lessons learned from Operation Desert Storm in the first Gulf War, the 67th FST was activated as the 67th Medical Detachment (Airborne) at Vicenza, Italy, in 1993. As such, the unit saw duty in locations such as Bosnia and Africa where it responded to the U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya.

The 67th lost its airborne status in 1999. Getting it back, Favand said, has been an exciting experience for Soldiers from the 67th. Eleven have completed the training and six more are scheduled for January.

Being part of the team is strictly voluntary, and Favand said finding Soldiers to fill future vacancies won’t be difficult.

‘‘Word has gotten out and a lot of local people are interested in joining.”

(Chuck Roberts writes for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Public Affairs.)