Now, Hunter Liggett is actually about 2.5 hours from the Airport (maybe less), but the Enlisted folks that picked me up knew that the sooner they got back, the sooner they got back. So we stopped at Costco, Walmart, Dickey’s BBQ, and other places along the way. No reason to rush back when the command doesn’t know! Plus, they were picking up supplies for the welfare and morale of the unit, which is actually very important. Interestingly, we drove through Gilroy, where Sara spent some of her childhood. I never realized Gilroy was so close to this horrible place. Eventually, we arrived in the ultra hot, ultra dusty training center. I got inprocessed (which took longer than you might think) and eventually got dropped off at our unit’s location. By some wonderful grace, and I mean wonderful. COL Wanek, who is a General Surgeon who loves this stuff, met up with me and told me to sleep in this fixed structure building that had A/C attached to it. So I set up my cot in my own private bungalow and got all situated. No dusty nasty tent with a bunch of nasty dusty people for me! In the end, we ended up commandeering the hut to be our sick call location. This ended up being the saving grace of this whole exercise.
The next day, I started working sick call. Since I arrived ahead of the other physicians, they didn’t really have much for me to do, so I started working sick call. As things go, it kept expanding and expanding. Eventually, other units started sending people to us. We got MRE boxes and started building shelves. We started getting real medical supplies (IV bags and so forth) and real medications. At its Zenith, we were seeing 40+ people a day at sick call and keeping them from going to TMC and returning them to duty. It became a real help to the command. I think because of that, the command turned a blind eye to us sleeping in the shack and leaving the A/C on all day. It was truly a wonderful thing. We also didn’t go out and do typical unit stuff because we were busy running sick call. COL Wanek and some of her friends moved into the shack and in the end, it was the place to be.
Most of the initial days of the exercise were spent seeing sick call, making improvements, eating MREs, trying to stay cool (it averaged 115 degrees every day I was there), and trying to get tasked to do other things. Fortunately, this unit had been to Hunter Liggett before so they knew to bring shower units, laundry units, and A/C. I can’t even imagine having done this same exercise without those same amenities. It would have been miserable beyond compare. We spent some of this time setting up the actual tents and setting up the hospital. It was honestly a site to behold. It is real cool that we can do something like this: set-up a large hospital capable of providing care to critically injured patients in the middle of the desert in a small amount of time completely self contained. It’s actually a little impressive. Of note, we had one SGT who was our tent master. He was incredibly good. He had the hospital set-up to standard so quickly, it was amazing. He would prove his worth later in the week when another Hospital in a nearby valley took massive injuries when a Blackhawk blew down their tents because they weren’t set-up properly.
After the first week, the rest of the physicians and CRNAs arrived. Once the “critical war time party” had arrived, things changed a little. We were finally ready to start practicing being a Combat Support Hospital. We set-up the OR and created more field shelving in it. We practiced and trained for any upcoming events by having lectures and more training. Finally, we got to the point of doing the exercise. We were practicing being part of a wartime effort in Korea. We had incoming wounded (with endless amounts of mass casualty exercises), we got attacked and gassed, and we got over run once by enemy soldiers. It was all very tiring. It reminded me a lot of the training I did when I was in medical school at USUHS. It’s fun and interesting for about 48 hours, then it’s not so fun and interesting. By the end, we were all very tired and ready to be done. Fortunately, I had come early and so I got to leave early. I got my stuff packed up, took one last nasty shower (but let’s be honest, nasty shower is better than no shower), and said goodbye to the folks I had met. Again, as always, the best part of the military is making friends with people through shared misery. There were a lot of great people that I met at this training. Hopefully, we don’t have to do it again to stay friends.
I left early in the morning and got to the airport well before my flight left in the evening. Fortunately, I had my priority pass card and took a proper shower and changed into proper clothes. I ate real food again and just sat and gave thanks that I was no longer hot and nasty in the middle of California. In the end, it was a good experience where I met lots of good people. I was impressed by the dedication of these folks and the professionalism of this particular Reserve Unit, but I was very glad to get home.