May 2, 2011
Osama Bin Laden is dead, but the war in Afghanistan continues. Tens of thousands of American troops are still risking their lives there.
If they're wounded, they now have a better chance of surviving because of an amazing piece of equipment designed and built at Maintenance Center Albany on the Marine Corps Logistics Base.
Mobile Trauma Bays are in action on the front lines in Afghanistan.
Navy Commander and Emergency Medicine Physician Tom Craig says they are 'revolutionary' and he was part of that revolution. "The capabilities that this provides to the war front is phenomenal."
The emergency medicine physician spent nine months deployed to a remote outpost in Afghanistan. Much of that time was spent inside this metal box nudged right next to the front lines. "At one time we were out 57 days," he said.
57 straight days, no shower or bathroom facilities, a four-man crew living in here, Only with it filled with medical equipment. "Moving isn't as easy as it seems right now," said Tom.
But the work they did here saved lives. "Putting a medical capability like an ICU within a couple hundred yards of the battlefield is unbelievable."
The MTB is attached to an armored truck and can go right along with Marines on patrol.
Commander Craig was deployed to Now Zad, Afghanistan, an hour helicopter ride from Camp Leatherneck, the main base in the region where all sorts of specialists are waiting to treat wounded troops. "We're giving you more medicine. Everything's fine."
But deep in Taliban territory, a seriously wounded Marine can't wait for a chopper to pick him up and evacuate him. He needs treatment right away, and treatment he can now get in the MTB.
"So you're pulling your stretcher in. Start reassuring the Marine that he's gonna be okay. Slide it in at an angle. Lock it in, " Craig says.
More than 98% of the wounded Marines who make it into the Mobile Trauma Bay make it out alive.
"I think they fought harder and with less fear that something bad was gonna happen because they knew the box was there."
Quite simply, troops now recover from wounds that, until now, have never been survivable. "We had an alley that the Marines called no leg alley..."
They called it that because so many Marines had their limbs blown off there. The Doc treated some of those Marines moments after they were injured. "None of those guys should have lived."
And their road to recovery began thousands of miles away, months before they were even hurt.
It began in Albany. "It means a lot to all of us," said welder Clifton Taylor. He's a welder at Maintenance Center Albany who says he put his blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of overtime... Into the Mobile Trauma Bay project.
"It was trying, but what we do here is nothing compared to what those poor guys out there in the field have to go through."
Two years ago, the Commandant of the Marine Corps ordered the Maintenance Center to develop an armored, fully-stocked, mobile, emergency room and intensive care unit.
Jessica Walden and her team dropped everything and went to work on the project that day.
"I may have been the design engineer on it, but I had so much support, and we all put our heart and soul into it because we knew where it was going and what it was going to do," Walden said.
They built a wooden mockup. Then a steel version, communicating daily with the Navy doctor who came up with the idea to get every detail right.
"Look at that. They are solid as a rock."
They worked all but non-stop. "12 hour days, 7 days a week, 50 straight days," said Jessica.
Experts say a project this complex should take a minimum of 13-months to complete. So, how long did it take the Albany team? "79 days," said Walden.
And listen to what the Program Manager from Marine Corps headquarters has to say about that job.
"I do not believe that there is any other industrial facility in this country that could have accomplished that," said Matt McBride, Program Manager.
Nobody else anywhere could have turned an idea into this asset deployed to a warfront in just a matter of months. "I had no idea that it was just love," Craig says.
It's dedication the doctors who use the Mobile Trauma Bay appreciate because they've looked into the eyes of the Marines the MTB has saved, like a young officer brought in after losing parts of both legs.
"He was actually sitting up yelling orders to his Marines. His goal was to be the quickest to get out of rehab and get out of the hospital, and from what I heard, he did."
Because of Albany's Warfront ER and the south Georgians who dedicated their lives to doing all they could to save lives a world away.
The Maintenance Center built nine Mobile Trauma Bays. Most are currently deployed in Afghanistan.
The one we saw was back in Albany for a spruce up, but it should be back on the battlefield helping save the lives of brave young Marines soon.
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