Convoy Casualty Evacuation

by Major Therrel L. Brown, Jr.

      It is 1047 hours, and the convoy is winding its way along main supply route Iwo Jima to the brigade support area (BSA). The convoy commander, First Lieutenant Bryant, is confident, even comfortable, with the route since this is the fourth day that he has taken this scheduled convoy to the BSA along this course. The brigade has been fighting the Krasnovians for 3 days, and he knows that it has been hard fighting. He wonders what the brigade is planning and what it will mean to the main support battalion.

    Suddenly there is an explosion behind him, followed by automatic rifle fire. The driver of Lieutenant Bryant's high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) immediately speeds up, clearing the ambush site as he was trained. Lieutenant Bryant reaches for the radio, yells out a spot report to the battalion, and then tries to regain control of his elements. He yells to the driver to turn around as additional explosions and rifle fire continue. To his dismay, he sees two trucks burning and soldiers thrown clear of them on both sides. A truck that had been following too closely has slammed into one of the destroyed vehicles, and, though not burning, it is clearly disabled. Only two soldiers are returning fire sporadically from the ambush site.

    To make matters worse, the ambush happened at a crossroad, and the four trail vehicles have taken the wrong fork while going around the destroyed trucks and are disappearing in a trail of dust. Lieutenant Bryant again reaches for his radio, turns to the convoy frequency, and calls to the vehicles headed the wrong way. As the moments pass, with no response, he realizes that no one in the section of convoy disappearing down the wrong road has a radio.

    Quickly gathering the vehicles that are with him, Lieutenant Bryant organizes a group to rescue the injured soldiers. He contacts the battalion, provides an update of his situation, and requests assistance. The battalion informs him that they have requested division military police and host nation police support and are preparing to launch the quick-reaction force with an ambulance. Lieutenant Bryant knows that help is at least an hour away.

    The rifle fire subsides, and the enemy ambush team seems to have broken contact. Lieutenant Bryant and his "fire team" proceed to the ambush site. Two soldiers are dead, and five are seriously wounded. Lieutenant Bryant calls in an update to the battalion, giving details of the wounded, and learns that the quick-reaction force and ambulance have not departed yet. He knows that the wounded need to be treated and evacuated, but he realizes that he has no medics or combat lifesavers in his convoy. He also neglected to bring stretchers. He directs the soldiers to load the wounded into two HMMWVs, continue with "buddy aid," and send them back to the battalion aid station at Irwin Military City. Once they depart, he realizes that his two radios have departed with them.

    This sounds like a bad dream, but it has happened as we train convoys at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) is a difficult task for any unit. By their nature, convoys are attractive targets for guerrilla forces. Convoys tend to travel at set times along set routes, carry commodities that are crucial to heavy forces, and, as a result, frequently have to defend themselves. Convoys often travel without dedicated medical support on routes that stretch 30 to 40 kilometers and pass through both division and brigade areas.

    Field Manual (FM) 8-10-3, Division Medical Operations Center Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures, states that medical coverage is provided on an area support basis. However, the availability of echelon 1 (battalion aid station) or echelon 2 (medical company clearing station) care is seldom the issue. Historically, soldiers who reach echelons 1 and 2 care have a high survival rate. Providing treatment at the point of injury and evacuating casualties to echelons 1 and 2 care are a convoy's greatest challenges.

Planning the Convoy

    Convoys begin with the convoy commander receiving his mission brief from the battalion tactical operations center. This brief is typically a joint effort of the support operations section, which covers the mission requirements, and the battalion S2/3, who provides tactical information. A key element of this briefing is the S2/3's analysis of the threats to the convoy. There is a tendency to focus on the actions of the combat units and the enemy facing them. This is important information, but the analysis of how those actions may affect the convoy itself is more important. These potential enemy actions serve as a starting point for the convoy commander's tactical risk assessment. Clearly, any potential enemy action could cause casualties and requires the convoy commander to take steps to control or minimize the risks.

Planning Medical Support

    FM 55-30, Army Motor Transport Units and Operations, gives the convoy commander the responsibility for considering medical support when planning his convoy. In this planning, the convoy commander must coordinate for support beyond his capability. The convoy mission brief should identify the supporting medical units and their locations, the routes from the convoy route to each medical unit, and the frequencies and call signs for the medical units. It also should address the transition of support from one unit to another as the convoy crosses unit boundaries. Establishing an ambulance exchange point, where convoy vehicles carrying injured soldiers can meet ambulances if evacuation is required, can assist the convoy commander. The battalion S2/3 should inform the medical units that the convoy will be operating in their sectors so they can be prepared to assist the convoy.

    The convoy commander can request medics and ambulances from his unit's supporting medical company to accompany the convoy. This is not as difficult as it might seem on the surface. Ambulances routinely travel between the main support battalion and the forward support battalion to carry nonemergency casualties. Incorporating ambulances into the convoy provides additional protection for the ambulances and a higher level of medical support to the convoy. This only requires synchronizing ambulance and convoy movements.

    Finally, the convoy commander can request stretchers and backboards for the convoy's use in case casualties have to be moved. These items can enhance greatly the evacuation of casualties on nonstandard vehicles.

    Within the convoy itself, the convoy commander can take a number of steps to reduce risks to casualties. He can—

Rehearsing CASEVAC

    CASEVAC rehearsals must incorporate "triggers" that indicate when the location of the closest medical support changes. For example, evacuating a casualty 30 kilometers back to the convoy's point of origin when the nearest aid station is only 10 kilometers ahead is impractical and is not in anyone's best interest. Everyone must know these triggers in case the enemy figures out that the HMMWV with all the antennas carries the convoy commander and targets that vehicle or, as in Lieutenant Bryant's convoy, some convoy elements become separated.

    The commander should ensure that his convoy has multiple communications capabilities and should plan which vehicles with communications equipment will be used for CASEVAC so he can continue to communicate while evacuating his casualties. Since vehicles with mounted radios are in short supply, incorporating Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System squad and platoon radios into a convoy provides flexibility, particularly if an enemy successfully targets the command and control vehicle.

    CASEVAC must be planned not only to respond to tactical hazards. Evacuation may be necessary for injuries caused by accidents. Planning and training for CASEVAC will prepare a unit to take care of its soldiers in all situations and will boost soldiers' confidence in the care they will receive if they are wounded or injured.

    Convoys will remain a means of providing support over extended distances, and they will continue to be tempting targets for enemy forces as well as potential sources of accidental injuries. Preparing our convoys to care for and evacuate their casualties is an important element in ensuring support and protection of our logistics forces.   ALOG

    Major Therrel L. Brown, Jr., is the senior tactical analyst for the Goldminer Observer-Controller Team at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. He is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Quartermaster Officer Advanced Course, the Support Operations Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.