Azraq Serpent tests UK, US paramedics wartime cooperation

British and American battlefield medics practised wartime operations and procedures off the coast of the United Arab Emirates aboard the UK flagship HMS Ocean.

A specialist US medical team joined the helicopter assault group for the casualty drill, one of the tests of the Plymouth-based warship in her role as flagship of the Task Force 50 in the Persian Gulf.

Ocean has been in charge of the group – typically headed by an American carrier – since November, directing the day-to-day efforts of at least half a dozen warships and auxiliaries, and as many as 20 vessels during major exercises.

Azraq Serpent was the name of the drill.

In times of conflict and tension, and with the regular team of eight bolstered by the arrival of extra surgeons, medics and experts from the UK, the medical complex becomes a ‘role 2’ facility – providing life-saving treatment and surgery to casualties before they can be flown off to permanent hospital facilties ashore.

Five days before the exercise began, the US Air Force Special Operations Command Mobile Forward Surgical Team (MFST) were flown aboard HMS Ocean by US Navy Seahawk helicopters.

“The scenario may be an exercise, and the casualties may be volunteers, but the responses and reactions have to be perfect,” explained task force medical advisor Lt Spike Hughes.

At stake: the ability to get the three wounded marines (one in danger of losing his limbs, another rapidly losing blood and a third with a gunshot wound to the chest) from a beach to the operating theatre in 60 minutes – the ‘golden hour’.

For Ocean’s permanent medical team, the exercise was a welcome change from dealing with everyday ailments, coughs and colds – and a chance to show the depth of expertise and experience of the sick bay personnel.

“We are your GP, your paramedic, your nurse. We provide gold-standard care as a rule,” said Chief Petty Officer Medical Assistant Tim Johnston.

“It has to be gold-standard. You need the men and women to have confidence in our ability to provide them with the very best care –- they deserve that.”

Observing Azraq Serpent was Task Force 50 commander Commodore Andrew Burns. He said it was “an excellent step forward in establishing confidence in our ability to support real world emergencies or crisis.”