Fort Bragg Soldiers Train to Help if Needed in Emergency

WILMINGTON -- Fort Bragg soldiers made their way to the North Carolina coast last week with a simple message.

"We're here if you need us."

A team of soldiers from the 44th Medical Brigade visited the New Hanover County 911 call center and New Hanover Regional Medical Center as part of an effort to better prepare each in the event they need to be helped by the military.

Les Bolton, a medical operations officer with Joint Task Force Civil Support at Fort Eustis, Virginia, accompanied the soldiers on the trip.

The task force includes several domestic response missions, including some currently filled by the 44th Medical Brigade and other Fort Bragg units. The task force supports civil authorities in the event of a disaster. It offers military support to save lives, prevent further injury and provides temporary critical support to aid recovery efforts.

The outreach in Wilmington was part of a new effort by the task force, Bolton said. It was an early step in developing procedures for military personnel to assist local authorities in times of disasters.

With a very real hurricane on the minds of many in the room, leaders from the medical brigade discussed how they could be of use to Wilmington officials in the event of a disaster.

In particular, the soldiers were interested in supporting communications and helping medical facilities evacuate their patients.

The Army has plenty of radios and could quickly deploy a team of soldiers to help route resources, they said.

Col. Johnnie Wright Jr., chief of professional services for the 44th Medical Brigade, said the soldiers wouldn't be looking to take over efforts. Instead, they would supplement civilian authorities.

Charles Smith, a spokesman for New Hanover County Emergency Management, said the county would likely need more than 200 ambulances to move all of its patients in the event of an evacuation.

There aren't that many ambulances in the county, he said, and officials likely would need to turn to the state for more resources.

Bolton said the military could help.

"We have ambulances, we have helicopters," he said.

In addition to medical soldiers from Fort Bragg, there also are Air Force medical crews capable of flying patients in large C-17 and C-130 cargo planes.

In short, the military has resources and it wants civilian officials to be aware.

"This trip is about learning and educating," said Col. David Rinaldi, chief nurse and chief of clinical operations for the 44th Medical Brigade.

"We're letting them know what we do and what assets we have," Rinaldi said.

During the visit to the New Hanover 911 center, county officials said they were glad for the dialogue.

"It's definitely a deep conversation, but a conversation that should be had now," Smith said.

Dawn Williams, a supervisor at the 911 center, said the visit was comforting.

"It's encouraging for me to know there's something being put into place," she said.

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