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Preparing for Pedro: Snake eaters' new training proves valuable

A 51 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medic from RAF Honington, Norfolk, England, shows signs of fatigue, while treating patients during an exercise combat scenario. The RAF Regiment now uses volunteers who've lost a limb in battle but still want to serve as patients. Utilizing special moulage teams and the fact that the members already have a missing limb, combat medic trainers are able to give their new medics realistic human casualties to treat.  (Royal Air Force Photo)

A 51 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medic from RAF Honington, Norfolk, England, shows signs of fatigue, while treating patients during an exercise combat scenario. The RAF Regiment now uses volunteers who've lost a limb in battle but still want to serve as patients. Utilizing special moulage teams and the fact that the members already have a missing limb, combat medic trainers are able to give their new medics realistic human casualties to treat. (Royal Air Force Photo)

A team of Royal Air Force Regiment infantry medics transport a patient on a litter during an exercise combat scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. Realistic combat training is necessary to prepare the medics for combat operations in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo)

A team of Royal Air Force Regiment infantry medics transport a patient on a litter during an exercise combat scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. Realistic combat training is necessary to prepare the medics for combat operations in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo)

Staff Sgt. Vincent Hnat, a 'Pedro' gunner aboard HH-60G helicopters, keeps a keen eye below during a mission over Southern Afghanistan. Sergeant Hnat said Royal Air Force Regiment medics are zealots when it comes to saving lives, and that as an American, it's great to see a true ally and friend in the fight. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Vincent Hnat, a 'Pedro' gunner aboard HH-60G helicopters, keeps a keen eye below during a mission over Southern Afghanistan. Sergeant Hnat said Royal Air Force Regiment medics are zealots when it comes to saving lives, and that as an American, it's great to see a true ally and friend in the fight. (Courtesy photo)

A 51 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medic from RAF Honington, Norfolk, England, checks a 'wounded' soldier's pulse during an exercise combat scenario. RAF Sgt. Chris Perrio-Stone, 15 Squadron combat medic trainer, crusaded for new and more-realistic training for his medics. As a result, all infantry medics now spend time in United Kingdom hospitals where they are exposed to human blood and real-life smells.  (Royal Air Force Photo)

A 51 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medic from RAF Honington, Norfolk, England, checks a 'wounded' soldier's pulse during an exercise combat scenario. RAF Sgt. Chris Perrio-Stone, 15 Squadron combat medic trainer, crusaded for new and more-realistic training for his medics. As a result, all infantry medics now spend time in United Kingdom hospitals where they are exposed to human blood and real-life smells. (Royal Air Force Photo)

A team of 28 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medics prepare to transport a 'wounded' soldier to a casualty evacuation helicopter during a training scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. Realistic combat training is necessary to prepare the medics for combat operations in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)

A team of 28 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medics prepare to transport a 'wounded' soldier to a casualty evacuation helicopter during a training scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. Realistic combat training is necessary to prepare the medics for combat operations in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)

Capt. Josh Irvine and Capt. Rob Roth, 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, conduct a routine preflight check on a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter March 5.  Captain Irvine is the crews aircraft commander and Captain Roth is the mission pilot assigned to Nellis AFB, NV.  (U.S. Air Force photos by Senior Airman Nancy Hooks/Released)

Capts. Josh Irvine and Rob Roth, 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, conduct a routine preflight check on a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. Call sign “Pedro” is well known as the unit is entrusted with responding to a wide-array of medical emergencies. They work intimately with British Medical Emergency Response Teams and Immediate Response Teams to accomplish this task. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nancy Hooks)

A pair of Royal Air Force Regiment infantry medics from RAF Honington, Norfolk, England, apply a tourniquet to a 'wounded' patient during an exercise combat scenario. In the madness following a roadside bomb or even a traffic accident, if any one person on an infantry team must remain focused, it's the medic, said RAF Sgt. Chris Perrio-Stone, 15 Squadron combat medic trainer. (Royal Air Force Photo)

A pair of Royal Air Force Regiment infantry medics from RAF Honington, Norfolk, England, apply a tourniquet to a 'wounded' patient during an exercise combat scenario. In the madness following a roadside bomb or even a traffic accident, if any one person on an infantry team must remain focused, it's the medic, said RAF Sgt. Chris Perrio-Stone, 15 Squadron combat medic trainer. (Royal Air Force Photo)

A team of 28 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medics transport a soldier to a casualty evacuation helicopter during a training scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. RAF Regiment medics work hand in hand with U.S. Air Force pararescuemen in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)

A team of 28 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medics transport a soldier to a casualty evacuation helicopter during a training scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. RAF Regiment medics work hand in hand with U.S. Air Force pararescuemen in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)

Royal Air Force Regiment infantrymen exercise combat scenarios during a training mission at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. Realistic combat training is necessary to prepare medics for combat operations in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)

Royal Air Force Regiment infantrymen exercise combat scenarios during a training mission at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. Realistic combat training is necessary to prepare medics for combat operations in Southern Afghanistan. (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)

A team of 28 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medics care for a 'wounded' soldier aboard a casualty evacuation helicopter during a training scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. The RAF Regiment now uses volunteers who've lost a limb in battle but still want to serve as patients. Utilizing special moulage teams and the fact that the members already have a missing limb, combat medic trainers are able to give their new medics realistic human casualties to treat.  (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)
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A team of 28 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment combat medics care for a 'wounded' soldier aboard a casualty evacuation helicopter during a training scenario at Davidstow, North Cornwall, England. The RAF Regiment now uses volunteers who've lost a limb in battle but still want to serve as patients. Utilizing special moulage teams and the fact that the members already have a missing limb, combat medic trainers are able to give their new medics realistic human casualties to treat. (Royal Air Force Photo by RAF Senior Aircraftman Chris Davidson)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- The sun was just starting to set on the desert sky as a convoy of Royal Air Force Regiment infantrymen made their way back from a long and draining patrol to Bastian International Airport, Iraq.

As the convoy approached the airport, Sgt. Chris Perrio-Stone, 15 Squadron RAF Regiment combat medic trainer, came upon a water truck that had lost control and flipped over, crushing a passing vehicle and pinning four Iraqi men inside.

Sergeant Perrio-Stone and a fellow snake eater (a term respectfully given to RAF Regiment infantrymen by U.S. Airmen from neighboring RAF bases) rushed to the aid. Before they could make their way to the accident, the sergeant smelled strong odors of petrol and halted the junior medic.

The two quickly noticed gasoline spewing out of the car and diesel flowing from the water truck. To add to the incredibly dangerous scene was a handful of Iraqi civilians smoking nearby.

"I instructed the Iraqis to move back immediately and to put out their [cigarettes]," said Sergeant Perrio-Stone. "They eventually complied so we could move in and evaluate the accident scene."

When they reached the crushed car, they found two deceased men in the back, a conscious passenger and the barely alive driver.

"The driver had two compound fractures," said the sergeant. "Both of his femurs were sticking out of his thighs and literally pinning him under the steering wheel. His head was also dented in, and I knew he had very serious head trauma."

Time was of the essence. The medics would have to act quickly if they had any chance of saving the two men's lives.

However, when Sergeant Perrio-Stone looked toward his junior medic, it was clear that he was in shock and couldn't help much.

Sergeant Perrio-Stone began to treat the victims but due to the excessive head trauma with the driver, and unseen internal damage to the passenger, both men died.

Reflecting on the accident, Sergeant Perrio-Stone said he believes there was no way to save the men, but knew that RAF Regiment infantry medics training must change.

The RAF Regiment now uses volunteers who've lost a limb in battle but still want to serve. Utilizing special moulage teams and the fact that the members already have a missing limb, combat medic trainers are able to give their new medics realistic human casualties to respond to.

"In the madness of a roadside bomb or even a traffic accident, if any one person on an infantry team must remain focused, it's the medic," he said. "We've got to be able to react to whatever is in front of us, maintain life, and give our surgeons something to fix."

With that in mind, Sergeant Perrio-Stone crusaded for new and more-realistic training for his medics. As a result, all infantry medics now spend time in U.K. hospitals where they are exposed to human blood and real-life smells.

Additionally, giant leaps have been made to make battlefield training as real as possible. Recently, the 15 Squadron RAF Regiment combat medics trained with 100th Air Refueling Wing security forces to prepare themselves for ongoing combined U.S. - U.K. deployments where infantry medics are serving in roles similar to U.S. Air Force pararescuemen.

"If I can get my medics to a place where they are mentally and physically ready for combat, then I've created a force multiplier," said Sergeant Perrio-Stone, who claimed battlefield first aid is his passion.

"I'm not trying to glorify war or anything like that," continued the sergeant. "But if anything ever happens to me, I want to be confident that the man next to me can save my life."

With new combat medic training, Sergeant Perrio-Stone says he more confident now than ever that his medics are ready for war ... and to war is where his squadron is headed.

The 15 Squadron RAF Regiment combat medics are set to deploy to southern Afghanistan with nearly 150 other squadron members in November. While there, they'll work hand in hand with the pararescuemen of the 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, known all over Afghanistan by their call sign, "PEDRO."

Not only is Pedro well known, but the unit is entrusted with responding to a wide-array of medical emergencies. They work intimately with British Medical Emergency Response Teams, and Immediate Response Teams to accomplish this task.

"The British take their job very seriously," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Vincent Hnat, a Pedro gunner aboard HH-60G helicopters. "Their medics are zealots when it comes to saving lives. There is no parallel when it comes to the IRT and the MERT's dedication to saving a British life out there. As an American, it's great to see a true ally and friend in the fight with us."

The Pedro commander echoed Sergeant Hnat's sentiment.

"The operation here is a great opportunity to come together as a combined team, execute a shared vision and strategy, and learn from each other while executing combat operations and saving lives," said Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas R. Dorl, 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander, in an e-mail from his deployed location.

Having only worked with British forces a little before, the commander has nothing but admiration for the results the MERT and IRT medics have produced so far.

"From what I've learned in speaking to them, and from seeing the results of the hard work and efforts, I can tell you that these medics seem to be medically trained in a very similar manner to our pararescuemen," said Colonel Dorl. "I breathe a breath of fresh air just knowing we can rely on each other to perform flawlessly in exceptionally stressful environments."

Sergeant Hnat said the combat search and rescue role the combined team brings to the fight allows continued medical evacuations and saves lives.

"Regardless of how the next few years in Afghanistan work out, win or lose, I will know that my job, my mission and my role was a righteous one," said Sergeant Hnat. "We fight hard. At a moment's notice, we will throw ourselves into the fray to save a wounded soldier - without regard for our own lives.

"Whether we are hoisting IED victims out of a mine field, shooting our way into and out of a hot landing zone for a gunshot wound victim, or flying on a zero-illumination night into a zero-visibility landing for a local national child who was just in a car accident, we will go," said the seasoned gunner.

"We will do it," Sergeant Hnat said. "These things we do ... that others may live."