FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Fake blood spewed, smoke billowed, strobe lights flashed and two high-tech dummies with limbs blown off lay on the ground.
"Medic, somebody call a medic!" a woman shrieked as the sound of gunfire erupted from the shadows.
In rushed an out-of-breath Pfc. Merinda Karn with aid bag in hand for a test of her medic skills.
As the insurgents in Iraq step up their attacks, the Army has increased the intensity of its training of battlefield medics. That has meant moving the training from classrooms to more realistic settings and teaching medics to keep fighting the enemy — even if it means sometimes delaying treatment of the wounded.
"One medic on his weapon returning fire can make the difference between the enemy staying and continuing to fire on us, or saying 'Whoa, I got to go,'" said Capt. Brad Tibbetts, the officer in charge of the Alfred V. Rascon School of Combat Medicine at Fort Campbell. "That's one thing we teach them — when to delay and when you can't."
This year, about 500 medics and others who work in small, isolated units will undergo training at the school. They attend the class partly to refresh skills they acquired during a 16-week course at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where all new Army medics take civilian emergency medical technician classes and study battlefield techniques.
Much of the training at the Fort Campbell school is conducted using strikingly lifelike dummies controlled by computers. The dummies "bleed," breathe, blink and have a pulse.
Nearly 90% of Americans wounded in Iraq are surviving, compared with 73% in Vietnam and 78% in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Col. Richard Agee, chief of staff of the U.S. Army Medical Department and School, credited better body armor and better training of medical personnel.
Master Sgt. Luis Rodriguez, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the training at the school, is a former medic who was hit by mortar fire in Iraq. He lost a leg, but the use of a tourniquet helped save his life. He said the first thing he tells the medics is that the enemy will fire at them even if they are rendering aid, and they must be prepared to fight.
"The most important piece of equipment isn't your aid bag, it's your rifle," Rodriguez said. "We have to be aggressive, compassionate at the same time. But you have to bring the evil to the enemy."
Fort Campbell started holding the final test for the class in a dark room after 101st Airborne Division medics returning from Afghanistan said they were not prepared to treat the wounded without light.
The 20-year-old Karn, who weighs about 140 pounds, was out of breath when she ran in to take the test because she had run six miles that morning and then dragged a 185-pound soldier about 200 yards before dashing into the room.
She flunked the test because in the dark she failed to feel an exit wound in the back of her "casualty," and it "died."
Afterward, the lights came on in the room and taps played. An instructor discussed what she did wrong.
"I just wasn't as thorough as I should've been," Karn said, before leaving the room to write a letter to the "casualty's" parents, also part of the medic training.
Tibbetts said it is OK to make mistakes here.
"I guarantee she probably won't miss it again," he said. "If they learn it here, that's a good thing."
School NCOIC MSG Rodriguez was recently featured on the ABC television Extreme makeover show - see article below.
'Extreme makeover' rebuilds home of Army family
By Kristen Marquez
September 19, 2005
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Army News Service, Sept. 19, 2005) – The home “makeover” of a Soldier injured in Iraq will kick off the season premiere of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” Sept. 25.
In late June, the family of Master Sgt. Luis Rodriguez got a surprise visit from the cast and crew, including the popular Ty Pennington, and a new 3,225-square-foot home near Fort Campbell, Ky., specifically tailored to the Rodriguez family’s needs.
Rodriguez was injured in Iraq in 2003, losing his right leg above the knee, two fingertips on his left hand and he sustained serious shrapnel wounds when his Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb near Mosul, Iraq. Over a period of four months, he underwent 16 surgeries and had to learn how to walk with a prosthetic leg and crutches.
Despite June’s sweltering heat, some sudden thunderstorms and five days to work, the home makeover for Rodriguez, his wife Lillian and their daughters Michelle, 8, and Melanie, 6, came together.
While the family was away on vacation, the crew of the television program, along with local builders, contractors and about 700 volunteers, rebuilt the Rodriguez family house, bigger and better than ever.
Strong Soldier, strong leader
Maj. Daniel Morgan, S-3 for 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division was Luis Rodriguez’s former commander.
“Master Sgt. Rodriguez is one of the most passionate [noncommissioned officer’s] I’ve ever met,” Morgan said. “He understands how to train Soldiers. He goes above and beyond training -- he actually teaches them.”
Morgan was on his way back in from a patrol in Iraq when Rodriguez’s patrol was on its way out. Rodriguez’s patrol was ambushed. Morgan said it was fortunate that his patrol was right next to Rodriguez’s when it was attacked so they could help out right away.
Once the U.S. element gained superiority, Morgan said he moved in to assess casualties and saw Rodriguez had been injured.
“His entire truck was demolished,” Morgan said. “I reached in to try to pull him out and I had to move a lot of the metal and stuff out of the way, and when I reached in, I realized his leg was gone. He couldn’t hear anything, but he was still trying to lead.
“Personally, half a dozen times we had been attacked as a company, but seeing him was pretty devastating. He had been my platoon sergeant for 22 months, and he had such a strong personality. So to see him so weak was devastating.”
Morgan continues to stay close with Rodriguez and was at the home’s demolition June 24.
“The wonderful thing about the Army is the friendships,” he said. “You pay respect to rank, but in the end the friendship is naturally there due to all the hardships you have to endure together. So this has definitely drawn us much closer in that aspect.”
One of the most important things Morgan wanted to point out about Rodriguez is that he doesn’t see himself as any more deserving of the new home than anyone else. He also said Rodriguez is a father first, then a leader.
“He is just an example to all of us by his commitment to his family, to the Army and to Soldiers,” Morgan said.
“He has said he doesn’t want to retire because he doesn’t know what he would do without Soldiers.”
Families show support
Fort Campbell families were excited to be a part of the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” process. The overall theme of the week-long adventure in the north Clarksville neighborhood was simply doing a good deed for a deserving family.
Jannelle Cundiff, whose husband is a pilot with 2nd Battalion, 17th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, and her friend Lacy Cooper, whose husband is a pilot with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, were at the demolition.
“I just think it’s really awesome that actually somebody is going to do something nice for somebody that basically put their life on the line for us,” Cundiff said.
“I wanted to come out and support the show for the same reason,” Cooper said. “They’re doing good things for people that have given so much and so we wanted to come out here and be supportive not only for the family, but to kind of represent the military families in general and just be supportive. I think it’s great that they came here to honor the military, to do something for a service member that risked life and limb -- literally.”
Neither Cundiff nor Cooper actually knows the Rodriguez family, but both said that didn’t matter to them. After reading about the family in the paper, they were simply touched by their story and felt like they wanted to help out by showing support.
On June 24, demolition day, Soldiers and community members alike signed in beginning at 5:30 a.m. to help.
“We’re just here to show support to a fellow brother in arms,” said Lt. Mike Taylor, Company D, 1st Battalion, 502nd Inf. Rgt., who was one of many Soldiers from his unit that volunteered to help.
160th gets involved
Soldiers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as SOAR, volunteered all week in four-hour shifts. Bikers Who Care, a local group of motorcycle and community service enthusiasts, contacted the 160th about volunteering their time to help build the home for the Rodriguez family.
Spc. Nick Brown worked Monday afternoon. He said he had helped with the aquarium inside the house, the garage and some odd jobs in the backyard.
To Brown, knowing his unit volunteered to help a Soldier they don’t even know really meant a lot to him and made him even more proud to say he’s a Special Ops Soldier.
“I just think it’s great to help out another Soldier, somebody that’s been to war and got hurt, and they may need the house. I think it’s a great thing to help out and build for them.”
Family sparks friends
Friends and neighbors are quick to discuss the pleasure of knowing the Rodriguez family.
“We know them through pre-school,” Amy Casner said. “My oldest daughter Jordan is friends with their youngest, Melanie. And we live right around the corner.”
Casner was friends with the Rodriguez family when Luis Rodriguez was injured in Iraq.
“I know at first it was really rough,” she said. “But he’s doing wonderful. They’re real good friends with the people across the street from us, so I see him out there and yell hello.
“They’d probably give the shirt off their back for anybody. They are wonderful people. I couldn’t pick a more deserving family. They are absolutely remarkable.”
Tears of joy abound
With crowds of people gathered in neighbors’ yards, some there since 7 a.m., the Rodriguez family got to see their new house for the first time the evening of June 29.
Ty Pennington emerged from the house with his trademark megaphone around 4:30 p.m., running along the street and slapping hands with spectators.
As Pennington stood by, the famous bus was slowly backed up to hide the house from view.
Cheers from the crowd erupted louder than ever as the family’s limo door was opened.
Then the famous “Bus driver, move that bus!” could be heard.
The crowd picked up on the cheer and began chanting “Move that bus! Move that bus!” over and over.
The bus began rolling and the Rodriguez family could see their new house for the first time.
Luis Rodriguez stared at the house for a brief moment, and then clearly broke into tears.
Soon, the crowd’s chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” became nearly deafening.
Both Luis and Lillian Rodriguez were emotional from that point on, wiping tears from their eyes, waving at the crowd and thanking everyone involved.
Around 5:40 p.m., the family was finally taken inside to see the interior.
Show to reveal ‘Spirit of Soldiers’
Although the Rodriguez family has lived in their “made over” house for nearly three months now, they look forward to seeing the behind-the-scenes actions that transformed their home.
“I don’t know what to expect [from the show],” Luis Rodriguez said. “[The producers] won’t tell me anything.”
The Rodriguez’ lives have not been the same since the home makeover.
“The first two weeks after we got back we had people driving by, snapping pictures and coming to the door,” Luis Rodriguez said.
Overall, he is pleased with the new home and is looking forward to seeing how the show turned out.
“It represents a lot; It represents the spirit of Soldiers,” he said. “It will be a positive thing to go out to the entire nation.”
(Kristen Marquez is a staff writer for the Fort Campbell Courier newspaper.)