HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- --
It is a cool, fall day and the sun shines through the car window warming your face. Suddenly, the truck jerks and tumbles off the road. Your teammate is thrown from the truck, and flung out of sight.
You exit the truck and find your teammate critically injured. He is presumably dead. There is no time to think about anything else. Medical care needs to be rendered immediately as each second equates to life or death.
“October 31, 1996, at 3:45 in the afternoon, how’s that for exactness,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Ernie Lorelli, Progressive Force Concepts instructor. “It was rough, I was an absolute mess.”
Lorelli was the man thrown from the truck, he was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, at the time. He sustained multiple injuries including a fractured skull, broken ribs and multiple broken bones.
“When my team got to me they first said, ‘he’s dead’ and went to help the other guys. I made some noise and they said ‘oh geez he’s alive’ and started treatment,” said Lorelli.
Lorelli’s EOD team had been through advanced emergency medical care training, they knew what to do to keep him alive while waiting for help.
“My chances [of living] were greatly improved because of what they did. I know I stopped breathing, and they knew what to do, so thank God,” Lorelli said with a chuckle.
Nearly 24 years later, Lorelli is teaching Holloman’s EOD technicians the same skills his teammates used to save his life.
“This training is preparing me for pretty much anything that we could come across,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Vetter, 49th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician. “I learned how to care for someone no matter the situation, whether it’s a minor cut or a burn over an entire body.”
The technicians took part in a five-day training focused on immediate medical treatment in response to a traumatic incident. They were given a mix of formal classroom lectures and hands-on experience in a variety of skills to include airway management, bleeding control, intravenous procedures and aeromedical evacuation operations.
“The goal of this training is to improve the medical skills of the unit personnel. They’re EOD people, so their real expertise is destroying unexploded ordnance, rendering Improvised Explosive Devices safe, etc.,” explained Lorelli. “In their profession the risk or opportunity for something bad to happen is very real. They really don’t have the time that it would take medical personnel to respond to them; so they need to have those basic skills themselves.”
The course concluded with a field training exercise where the students applied the skills they learned over the first four days to a variety of simulations.
Colored smoke filled the air and flash simulators ignited, letting out loud bangs as actors cried out in simulated agony.
“It was chaotic at times. We had flash simulators going off and smoke grenades, and of course the instructors were yelling and creating chaos,” said Senior Airman Alex Greenawalt, 49th CES EOD technician. “It was a culmination of everything. It was extremely exciting and stressful, but it made everything more real.”
Realistic training is essential to building confidence in the skills being practiced. In real world situations it could be between life and death.
“This training is important for us, it’s another tool in the toolbox. We have three ranges we support, one of which has an active target meaning it has live explosives,” said Greenawalt. “No matter how safe you are during an explosive operation, something can go wrong. It’s comforting knowing that the whole team is trained up to this level in the event of an emergency. It makes me feel confident knowing my teammate next to me has the same training.”
Without teamwork and persistence the importance of medical training can be overlooked.
“I pressed this for many years as a chief master sergeant, the minute I [had the authority] to get my guys educated I was sending them through training,” said Lorelli. “I roll this all the way back to 1980 when I was a buck sergeant and my Chief turned to me and said, ‘I want you to become an emergency medical technician’ and I said, ‘what the heck is an EMT?’”
He went on to earn the highest score on the EMT test in the state of California that year.
“I found it incredibly helpful and important throughout my career, and with the numerous deployments I did and places I went,” said Lorelli.
Years after retirement, Lorelli talks about the EOD community like they are his family. Holloman’s team put forth their best effort to learn these life-saving skills, and exceeded his expectations.
“This team has done a fantastic job. They are a switched on group of operators. It just warmed my heart when I came in and seven of them were sitting on the training room floor going over their notes asking questions back and forth,” Lorelli said with a tear in his eye. “They’ve put in the work, I’m very happy and I’m very proud of this group.”