‘Below Zero Medicine’ Investigates Novel Ways To Combat Medical Care In Cold Environments


Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska – As part of this year’s Arctic Edge exercise, active-duty service members participated in a joint-forces training opportunity earlier this month to test evolving medical techniques and technology for Arctic combat.

Personnel from various governmental and medical technology entities arrived at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for the “Below Zero Medicine” training exercise.

The cooperative operation involved soldiers of the United States Army, Air Force, and Navy simulating an actual combat scenario in arctic circumstances, testing out new medical treatment methods to determine their usefulness in the field.

In one training exercise, a mass casualty occurrence on fake enemy lines resulted in several “soldiers” requiring medical attention owing to severe trauma.

According to TacMed Solutions sales engineer Walt Nichols, the “soldiers” were trauma-training mannequins programmed to exhibit the same physiological changes as an injured service member in the line of duty.

“As the mannequin bleeds, the heart rate will increase, the respiration rate will increase, giving the student or the medic appropriate feedback, allowing for a much more realistic training scenario,” Nichols went on to say.

The mannequins, created by a medical solutions company, are controlled by a remote controller, allowing Nichols to keep track of their condition. The remote controller enables instructors to maintain their distance while medics gain hands-on practice healing wounds in the field. The controller monitors heart and breathing rates while displaying completed interventions and the time required for a student to perform them.

If the patient dies, the mannequin will continue to function for future training purposes.

Medics treated these victims’ traumas, including as amputations and gunshot wounds, while also preventing hypothermia and frostbite.

Lt. Col. Kyle Spade, Battalion Commander of the 11th Airborne Division’s 3-509th Infantry Regiment, stated that the opportunity to improve treatment methods in arctic settings is critical, particularly for personnel who live and operate in Alaska.

“We do a lot with the cold weather injuries in terms of defining what frostbite looks like, understanding what is impactful with regards to hypothermia, things of that nature,” Spade went on to say. “That just goes into the overall scenario itself.”

Spade stated that their ability to reproduce the chilly environment they were working in provides crucial feedback to the joint-forces community.

Following priority treatment in the field, members worked to take the mannequins to a medical holding facility – a big tent with heat — for further medical testing and treatment.

Joan Cmarik, a U.S. Army Medical Research and Development representative working in the Experimentation Integration Unit, brought the portable pop-up shelters for a trial.

“What we brought here are some capabilities in development to address specific gaps that occur in this kind of cold, arctic environment,” Cmarik went on to say.

Arctic Edge is an annual defense exercise organized by the United States Northern Command that includes field training exercises around the state. The exercises take place in adverse weather and high-latitude locations to demonstrate the United States’ Arctic defense capabilities.

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