By Master Sgt. Nick Choy, 142nd Fighter Wing/ Public Affairs
/ Published February 19, 2019
Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. -- PORTLAND, Oregon - When Oregon Air National Guard Maj. Christopher Webb signed-up for the 2018 Military Reserve Exchange Program, he admitted he had no idea what he was getting into. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Webb said, as he sat in the CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) building at the Portland Air National Guard Base during the recent October drill weekend, as he recalled the experiences the month prior.
Maj. Webb, who serves as the Deputy Commander and Director of Operations for the 142nd CERFP at the Portland Air National Guard Base in Portland, Oregon, ultimately spent two weeks with British and Irish Soldiers during Exercise Stone Viper, held at Camp Swynnerton near the village of Stone in central England. Members of the 335 Medical Evacuation Regiment from England and the 253 Medical Regiment from Northern Ireland conducted field-based medical evacuation training over the course of two weeks with a focus on “Soldiering skills."
As part of the 2018 Military Reserve Exchange Program or MREP, Webb and three other U.S. Air Force members from across the United States participated in the exercise with their counterparts from the United Kingdom.
“This program provides American Airmen with an opportunity to embed with allied forces and function as a member of their team,” Webb said.
Webb said the exercise was unique, even for the British Army Reserve Soldiers because it allowed them to push beyond their normal level of training—sometimes into a level of discomfort they had not experienced in a long time—especially for the newer British Soldiers.
“We had no idea that we would be in the field for seven days and six nights, so we weren't prepared simply from a packing standpoint,” Webb admitted.
Despite being ill-prepared for the weather and the field conditions, all four of the American service members adapted and overcame even as many of the British Soldiers began to fall out after the first few days. Webb admitted his Nike Airman Battledress Uniform (ABU) combat boots didn’t fare as well.
“I definitely wouldn't have worn my summer-weight Nike ABU combat boots had I known better!” he said.
During his first few days at Swynnerton, Webb took part in a British Army fitness test, which was exactly the same as the Air Force Physical Fitness Test. Webb and his fellow American service members attended training on the standard issue HK-A2 assault rifle, structural breaching and clearing, communications training on the British Bowman field radios, tactical operations during civil unrest in urban environments, medical care under fire, and basher (divvy) building and concealment techniques.
“We were also outfitted with a complete British Army kit to get us ready for the next week in the field,” Webb added.
Describing the teams assembled for the exercise, Webb said all participants were divided up into three squadrons—two having one American each, and the third having two Americans. Each squadron consisted of a command staff, medical officers (providers) medics, and ambulance drivers. Additionally, it was up to the command staff of each squadron to assign staff to two PHTTs (pre-hospital treatment tents) and a QRF (quick response force). All of the Americans were placed on their squadron's command staff, with Webb named as the Intel Officer and 3IC (third in-charge) of his squadron. But most important to Webb was the focus on battlefield casualty evacuation.
“It was important for me to see Role-1 medical care which is emergency care from the point of injury and includes triage, treatment, stabilization, and evacuation to the next higher role medical treatment facility,” Webb said.
In his past experience in the U.S. Air Force, and especially with the CERFP, Webb has had experience in-patient evacuation, but he admitted he had never participated in the entire process until now.
“I now have working knowledge of the entire chain of care from injury on the battlefield through evacuation out of theater,” Webb said.
The other difference Webb noted was how little “simulating” happened during this exercise. “The exercise was surprisingly realistic in every way, from constantly exchanging fire with the enemy using blank rounds, meeting with angry village chiefs who spoke only Russian, ambushes and raids, and performing medical interventions on casualties while under fire,” he said. “I was impressed that there was very little ‘nationalizing’ in this exercise.”
For Webb, the challenges of traveling halfway around the globe and spending two weeks training, sleeping and eating in the field were worth it.
“I gained an appreciation for Army field craft and an understanding of how care under fire can greatly make even the most rudimentary medical evaluation or procedure infinitely more difficult,” he said.
Webb also noted that the skills he acquired in his MREP experience will help him better plan training for his CERFP teammates back at the Portland Air National Guard Base.
“CERFP medical response is field-based and there’s actually more carry-over between battlefield medicine and responding to a mass-casualty disaster than one might initially think,” he added.
Webb recommends the exchange program to others. He said it allows U.S. military members to embed with allied forces and to function as a full member of their team.
“It provides U.S. military members unique perspectives, unparalleled access, an interesting insight into how other nations’ militaries function,” he said. “In addition, you’ll form international relationships and friendships with some really great individuals.”
As is typical with most members of the National Guard, Webb’s family was very involved in his British adventure.
“They enjoyed hearing my stories and looking at pictures taken during the exercise,” Webb said. “They also look forward to visits from some of my new friends who work in medical regiments throughout England and North Ireland.”
Maj. Christopher Webb serves as the Deputy Commander and Director of Operations for the 142nd CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) at the Portland Air National Guard Base in Portland, Oregon. He began his military career in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1997 and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. In his civilian career, he works as a physician assistant in general, bariatric and endocrine surgery, and is a published author in several medical journals.