Fort Carson troops train to fight microscopic enemies

As part of a monthlong annual disaster drill at the post, soldiers practiced to fight a bacterial pandemic

Fort Carson troops train to fight microscopic enemies

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip.

Tom Roeder
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Fort Carson soldiers trained Wednesday to tackle an unseen enemy - disease.

As part of a monthlong annual disaster drill at the post, soldiers practiced to fight a bacterial pandemic. It's a new twist for the post, where soldiers have trained against fictional terrorist threats and even militant hackers in recent years.

But of all the exercises, fighting a microscopic enemy may be the toughest, Lt. Col. Renee Howell explained.

"I'm going to have to stay on my toes," said Howell, who is the head of preventive medicine at Fort Carson's Evans Army Community Hospital.

The training has roots in recent Army history. In 2014, 200 Fort Carson soldiers were sent to western Africa to help nations there combat an Ebola outbreak that claimed 11,000 lives.

The post exercise began as a mystery, with leaders working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to determine what caused the imaginary sickness spreading through Fort Carson's 24,500 soldiers and their family members.

"We have a huge population," she said.

Troops used their detective skills and practiced ways to control the disease including quarantine measures. They also practiced working with local authorities who would also have to deal with a quick-spreading disease that could easily leave the 135,000-acre post.

On Wednesday, they turned a gymnasium on post into the county's biggest pharmacy.

Soldiers from Evans worked alongside medics and military police to quickly process patients and dispense mock antibiotics.

They were able to handle about 200 patients an hour, each leaving the gym with an empty pill bottle.

"People will get the right medication at the right time," Howell said.

While the drill centered on an imaginary infection, the procedures used could come in handy against all kinds of disasters including the hurricanes menacing the East Coast and the wildfires raging in the West.

Howell said the common key to dealing with disasters is keeping track of people and efficiently meeting their needs.

"This operation is to make sure we screen people properly," she said.

Away from the gym, the exercise drilled other troops in disaster skills. The hospital's nurses and medics trained with a mass casualty exercise, overwhelming the emergency room with dozens of mock patients in need.

The post's firefighters and ambulance crews also practiced their tactics for dealing with simultaneous emergencies.

Most Army training drills focus on combat troops, who learn how to use their weaponry and work as a team.

This one had the doctors and nurses in the spotlight.

"We are usually in the background," Howell said.

But putting medical crews on the front lines for training has given Fort Carson piles of new plans that can be quickly implemented.

"It's kind of plug and play," Howell said.

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©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service