Mobile FRSS caught in catch-22
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    Exclamation Mobile FRSS caught in catch-22

    Joseph Heller wasn’t so far off the mark in pointing out that situations exist within the military that don’t always add up, and the sailors of Mobile Forward Resuscitative Surgical System are a perfect example of a “Catch 22.”

    Belaying the absurdity of the novel, the Mobile FRSS is a unit composed of eight exemplary sailors with top-notch credentials and life-saving hands. Acting as the furthest forward primary trauma care facility in Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment’s area of operations, the Mobile FRSS is ever ready to preserve life in a deadly environment. Fortunately the sailors of Mobile FRSS are incredibly bored most of the time.


    In a combat environment, trauma surgeons and operation specialists are a hot commodity. The number of individuals possessing life-saving skills does not add up to high numbers. The sailors from FRSS are plucked from Naval bases around the world, completing six-month rotations with parent Marine commands and scattered about the country into permanent surgical facilities.

    Consisting of two general surgeons (specializing in gunshot wounds, amputations and other traumatic cases), an anesthesia specialist, a critical care nurse, two operating room technicians, an independent duty corpsmen and a field medical corpsmen, the FRSS rolls light and fast, ready for anything.

    Lt. Cmdr. Angela Earley, FRSS trauma surgeon, said the eight sailors that make up BLT 3/1’s FRSS add up to one diversified unit which excels as a team.

    “We all have to know parts of the job that we wouldn’t normally have to,” she said, “but we’re self-sufficient and expeditionary.”

    Normally, according to Earley, a surgical unit would not have to assemble its own tents, operate generators, sterilize (Earley said, “sterile is a relative term out here”) the operating room or designate a landing zone. The FRSS accomplishes all of this in under one hour.

    ‘Here’s your cutter … ‘

    The FRSS is called upon only when requested, and never organic to any unit.

    “We’re here in case of bad weather that would prevent an air evacuation, which always takes priority,” said Earley, “and the operational tempo has to require the possibility of a need for forward surgical facilities.”

    Earley explained that FRSS concepts spawned from the initial phases of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. During the push toward Baghdad in 2003, FRSS units were running alongside the invasion forces, providing first responder care to battlefield casualties.
    When combat units enter operations expecting heavy casualties or flight constricting weather, a Mobile FRSS is assembled and trained to support the operation. This is the case that brought Mobile FRSS to BLT 3/1.

    Scheduled to conduct a rotation to Iraq in January, II Marine Logistics Group gathered its medical assets and set in.

    Chief Petty Officer Keith Becker, FRSS independent duty corpsmen, said the sailors (many of them on their first deployment here) felt the necessity of their role immediately.

    “We all felt the strain of the first month here … we didn’t have any time off,” Becker said.

    Life was split between training and saving lives. Sleep was a privilege.

    Following the initial rush, Mobile FRSS continued conducting drills and practicing assembling their somewhat massive tent complex. In May, a large scale combat operation near Al Qa’im, in the Western Al Anbar Province, pulled the Mobile FRSS forward to support adjacent units for ten days of fighting.

    After the operation, the FRSS returned to ‘normal’ life at Taqqadum Surgical Center, evaluating incoming patients and operating when necessary.

    When the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit came into country with BLT 3/1 in its holster, the Mobile FRSS was called into action. The always-present possibility of heavy casualties deemed the necessity of FRSS to unit commanders. The MLG supported the request and now the FRSS operates from Combat Outpost Golden with Battalion headquarters.

    “There it is. ‘Here’s your cutter,’” said Earley, using hand gestures to make her point (many of the Marines here are confused at the phrase which graces the FRSS sign). “Basically, the unit requests an FRSS and here we are. We’re the cutters.”

    Catch 22

    Having an experienced, well-equipped unit prepared to save lives at a moments notice is a valuable asset that, because of its nature, is unfortunately rare. The circumstances that would require Mobile FRSS are very, very slim, and the Sailors often find themselves conducting redundant training or playing cards.

    “If we’re bored,” said Becker, “that’s a good thing. It correlates the direct success of the mission. There’s nobody here that wouldn’t say that.”

    Boredom, however positively reflects on the unit, gives the Sailors time to think about the rear surgical centers. Not because of the soft beds or hot chow, Lt. Cmdr. Earley suggested, but because there are lives to be saved.

    “We see the helicopters flying overhead here, and I just wish I could be there helping out.”
    Earley and others agreed that serving with FRSS is a double-edged sword – a serious Catch 22. If the sailors are bored, then no one is hurt and all is (seemingly) well. But somewhere in the distance, a Marine has been hurt, and they want to help.

    It is a paradox that will forever plague those in the medical profession and their magic hands. Constantly drawn between two capable successes, the FRSS will be ready no matter what. Strikingly humble, personnel from the FRSS will hopefully wile their days away with cards and video games, maintaining the status quo. Without boredom, there is fear and uncertainty. During an operation, as Becker puts it, “there’s no glory inside these tents.”

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