Reservist Medical Tech says teamwork saved lives in Iraq

Article / December 11, 2019 / Project number: 19-0288

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Al Qari, Iraq — A Canadian Army Reservist serving on Operation IMPACT (Op IMPACT) in Iraq says timely medical interventions that recently saved the lives of one American and two Iraqi troops demonstrate the professionalism of the multinational team he is part of.

“I'd like to reinforce that it's a whole team initiative here,” said Master Corporal Chris Behnke who has been posted to a forward operating base in Al Qari, Iraq, since mid-July. He will continue to serve there until late January 2020.

MCpl Behnke is a Reserve Medical Technician with Edmonton-based 15 Field Ambulance and an Emergency Medical Technician in the City of Edmonton.

He was part of a trauma team that was responding to a “mass casualty incident” on August 10. For reasons of both operational security and patient confidentiality, MCpl Behnke was unable to provide complete details, but the team treated an Iraqi Security Forces member and an American soldier, both of whom survived gunshot wounds.

“My colleagues and myself were able to respond to that situation effectively,” he said. “We had previously done some training with the Americans co-located here at the base, and that brought us to a standard that allowed us to effectively react.”

On August 28, MCpl Behnke was charged with assessing an Iraqi soldier in training who believed he was suffering a heat-related issue. Thanks to his determination that the soldier was in fact having a stroke, MCpl Behnke ensured he was given the proper, urgent care at the American-led emergency facility on the base.

“He presented as having something like a respiratory issue,” he recalled, “but upon further investigation, just going through our usual assessment as you would do on any ambulance call, there were findings to indicate a potential neurological emergency.”

“So we brought him to the American facility and the great team there was very professional and very well equipped,” he added. “They were able to provide any and all lifesaving arrangements. All we did was identify that there was an emergency. They provided definitive care for the gentleman.”

Reservists are not obliged to deploy but still provide highly-valued support on foreign operations.  On average, they make up approximately 20 per cent of any deployed Canadian force.

MCpl Behnke is in Iraq to augment a main force drawn from 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry in support of Op IMPACT, Canada’s training mission in the Middle East.

Op IMPACT began as Canada’s contribution to the multinational coalition against Daesh (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. Canada is currently committed to Op IMPACT until November 2020 and is employed in a wide assortment of roles from operating an intelligence centre to training, advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces, as well as the military forces of Jordan and Lebanon.

Training is also part of MCpl Behnke’s work on the ground.

“We teach Combat Lifesaver, which is similar to the Combat First Aid course that we teach in the Canadian Armed Forces,” he explained. “Things like use of a tourniquet, aggressive hemorrhage control, airway management, and controlling any kind of trauma to the chest. And also quickly packaging patients and getting them moved to a treatment facility so that they can get the definitive care they need.”

And, he added, the learning goes in two directions.

“We might be providing the course material but we’re also able to extract a lot of lessons. It's kind of an austere environment here so they rely upon improvised equipment for certain things - household items, like doors, curtains, rugs - things like that, that can be used as stretchers. It's been great to work with the other nations. We bounce ideas off each other learn from each other. There are a lot of professional development opportunities that come with this.”

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