Operating together on Viper Walk

Department of Defence

As patients were ushered into what appeared to be a tent city at the Greenbank Military Training Area in Queensland, looks were deceiving.

The tent opened to a fully working hospital with a surgical capability, intensive care unit and patient bays – Air Force’s Role 2 Forward Medical Treatment Facility operated by 1 Expeditionary Health Squadron (1EHS).

Exercise Viper Walk, held by Army’s 2nd Health Battalion, enabled medical specialists from the Air Force, Army, New Zealand Defence Forces and the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) to come together and rehearse the land-based trauma system.

Wing Commander Duncan McAuley, of 1EHS, was the Air Force Director of Clinical Services on site at Exercise Viper Walk.

He facilitated communication between areas within the hospital, which included liaising with aeromedical systems, supervising junior staff and helping specialist reserve medical staff adapt to the military environment.

“It is vitally important our permanent and reserve personnel practise together, bond as a team, use the equipment and drill the clinical protocols of the RAAF Role 2 Forward and function in a relatively austere environment of a tent facility,” Wing Commander McAuley said.

“We must train as we intend to deploy.”

Executive Officer 1EHS Role Command Role 2 Forward Squadron Leader Rob Kelly emphasised the importance of the Role 2 Forward Medical Facility, which Commanding Officer 1EHS Wing Commander Ajitha Sugnanam was responsible for.

“Wing Commander Sugnanam is accountable for maintaining and exercising the Air Force capability to take a casualty that would not have survived evacuation and enable a member to survive the journey to definitive care and recovery,” Squadron Leader Kelly said.

Wing Commander McAuley was impressed at the sharing of ideas, and how Defence medical specialists from different services and from around the world easily worked together in challenging scenarios.

“We practised real-time movement of patients from one facility to the other, saw each other’s facilities, swapped ideas on equipment and processes, and enhanced future interoperability,” he said.

“Our PACAF colleagues embedded into the RAAF Role 2 Forward with little difficulty, apart from the initial ‘translation’ of drug names and introduction to Australian colloquialisms. They showed how much common ground we have in clinical areas as well as comradeship.

“They quickly became an integral part of our surgical team.”

Captain Brittin Southard is a PACAF anaesthetist from the USAF 673 Medical Group, Surgical Operation Squadron, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

Alongside PACAF General Surgeon Major Evan Dannhardt, Captain Southard collaborated closely with the Australian team to understand protocols and integrate easily, despite differences in the way each team operated.

“One notable addition in the RAAF setting is the presence of an anaesthetic nurse to support the anaesthesiologist, which differs from the typical staffing structure in the USAF,” Captain Southard said.

“This addition has provided invaluable assistance, allowing for easy transition for me into the RAAF resuscitative surgical capability team.

“The most enjoyable part of working with the RAAF during the exercise was undoubtedly building relationships, getting to know the RAAF professionals on a personal level, sharing experiences, and learning from each other’s expertise. [This] fostered a positive and enriching environment.

“The bonds formed during this exercise laid the foundation for continued cooperation and friendship between the USAF and RAAF medical communities and I hope we can continue to work together to expand our capabilities and build long-standing friendships.”

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