U.S. Army PFC Michaela Robertson graduated from AIT earlier this month and is now an official army combat medic. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos High School 2018 alumna and U.S. Army PFC Michaela Robertson is now a fully-trained army combat medic, an official “68 Whiskey”. Before joining the army, Robertson had obtained her EMT-Basic certificate from UNM-LA and earned her Associate’s degree in Emergency Management and Fire Science. She also worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Occupational Medicine Center as a phlebotomist.
“68 Whiskey” or 68W is one of the army’s most physically demanding Military Occupation Codes because medics have to carry whatever gear is required as well as their full ruck and their weapon in addition to their medical equipment. Needless to say, this means that Robertson’s Advanced Individual Training (AIT) placed a lot of focus on fitness and discipline.
Robertson said the first eight weeks of training consisted of EMT-B – learning basic life saving measures like CPR, oxygen supplementation, anatomy and physiology. Each day included studying multiple chapters and and each week saw her taking 1-2 tests. After taking her All Skills training, she took the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician’s examination to become licensed.
That’s when the first phase of “whiskey training” kicked in, which is limited promary care, where combats learn how to treat in a clinic-type setting. This is followed by field craft where the medics learned how to put on a tourniquet and the importance it has on the battlefield. They also learned surgical cricthyroidotomy (commonly known as emergency airway puncture), IVs and fluid resuscitation and drug administration as well as how to perform a needle decompression in the event of a pneumothorax, occlusive dressings, packing and bandaging wounds, pelvic binders, burn treatment and other lesser skills.
“All of the skills are tested towards the end of the course. Most of them have to be done within a 3-5 minute window so you have to learn to move quickly,” Robertson said.
She also trained in Combat Casualty Assessment which includes three phases of casualty care: care under fire, tactical field care and tactical evacuation care.
“You move your patient and begin treating them and you have 30 minutes to complete your full assessment before they get evacuated . It sounds easy until you realize you can get hit with any situation and they all take time, so you have to move quickly all while keeping yourself and your patient calm and keeping your issued weapon tucked on your legs while you do the entire assessment on your knees,” Robertson said.
At the end of whiskey phase, the medics test out on their skills and CCAs to prepare for Camp Bullis which is a mock forward operating base that is part of Joint Base San Antonio which is used as a field environment for training.”We were issued M4A1s (the standard weapon for brigade combat teams), we slept in tents and we had three days of classes before the fun stuff started,” Robertson said. “We learned about prolonged field care, a new concept that’s emerging in combat medicine. We learned how to do enemy prisoner of war searches, how to carry litters with the heaviest patients possible.”
At 5’5″ and 140 lbs, she had to carry a 6’5″ 250lb male.
“We also did surgical cricothyroidotomies on pig throats. We learned how to triage, how to work on a Battalion Aid Station and how to be a medic in an evacuation situation,” Robertson said.
Then it was on to War Week, which is a 72-hour continuous operation.
“We had to split into day and night shifts. It’s entirely student-led, so we had to test our training but could ask for help if we needed it. We had to act as patients for our peers and then had to shift over to being medics, triage them, treat them properly and get them evacuated,” she said. “Simulated mortar attacks would hit every few hours and everyone had to come take accountability and move patients so treatment could begin.”
Robertson said the medics don’t get to sleep more than two hours consecutively during War Week, averaging about four hours sleep a night if they’re lucky.
“Then you do a 24-hour patrol where one shift stays to pull security on the hill and maintain fighting positions while the others go and learn how to treat patients in a simulated, yet more realistic scenario than you get in a classroom setting,” she said. “Basically you get ‘ambushed’ and have to return fire and then treat the casualties out in the hills of Texas. Part of this included night operations so IV sticks were being done underneath red lights attached to our helmets , and if you were one of the few selected, night vision.”
Robertson is currently at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state where she is attached to a medical brigade. She is the daughter of Michelle and Terran Robertson of Los Alamos.