Army National Guard medics from the Badger State got hands-on training with some real Badgers as part of an ongoing program aimed at building readiness.
Known as Operation Badger Medic, the program pairs combat medics from the Wisconsin Army National Guard with athletic trainers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Sports Medicine program for one-week training opportunities.
The program, now in its third year, gives Army National Guard medics from units around Wisconsin the opportunity to shadow UW staff as they provide care and treatment to UW’s football, basketball, soccer, volleyball and other teams. The Soldiers then take the lessons learned from working with the athletic trainers and apply them in their units where it’s their responsibility to keep Soldiers in the fight for training and combat.
“I think the program from what we’re learning this week can really help with some preventative injuries, so we can educate our Soldiers with the way they’re working out so that injuries are prevented and that keeps readiness high,” said Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Stefonek, the readiness non-commissioned officer and a flight medic at the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s flight facility in West Bend. “We learned a lot about taping ankles and if someone has some sort of chronic injury, what we can do to prepare them for working out so maybe they don’t exacerbate a smaller injury and it becomes a larger injury, then Soldiers need a profile, and then they’re not able to deploy and that readiness level goes down.”
According to Kyle Gibson, an athletic trainer at UW and the lead coordinator for the Badger Medic program, the relationship is mutually beneficial. Gibson and members of his team have made the trek to Fort McCoy several times to train alongside National Guard medics, who focus more heavily on trauma treatment, compared to the preventative orthopedic type of care on which athletic trainers typically focus.
“There can be things that randomly happen that we just have to be able to deal with,” Gibson said. “And going through training and staying fresh with something as simple as a tourniquet. You may have to apply that.”
“It’s just staying sharp,” he added. “It’s staying sharp and on top of all healthcare things and getting a different viewpoint from a different professional like a medic is important to just kind of stay sharp and interpret what they’re saying and doing and relate it back to sports.”
Nearly 60 Soldiers have participated in the Badger Medic program since its inception three years ago when Sgt. 1st Class Tim Ehlers a medic with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment approached the university about the idea.
Those Soldiers leave the week-long program having worked with certified athletic trainers and students training to become trainers on everything from injury treatment to taping ankles, knees, wrists and other joints. When a group of Soldiers went through the Badger Medic program in mid-October, they discussed the similarities and differences between concussion protocols for Soldiers and athletes.
They also discussed the challenges that Army medics face with only a handful of medics assigned to entire battalions with hundreds of Soldiers, compared to the robust training staff and resources associated with a major collegiate athletic program.
“Yesterday was our taping day, so we taught them how to tape an arch, tape an ankle, tape a thumb, tape a wrist, all the normal stuff we do all the time,” Gibson said during an Oct. 18 football practice. “But we’re spoiled in that we have a lot of resources right here, where sometimes the medics are going to be out in the field and limited to small things or maybe they’ll be lucky and they’ll be based at more of a hospital setting and they’ll have more resources.”
In many cases, Army medics have to improvise to provide treatment.
“And it’s interesting to talk to them about that, because they’re like, ‘Oh, I would do this because this is what I would have access to,’” Gibson said. “So just their creativity and how they treat things is just amazing.”
Soldiers who participated have been grateful for the experience.
“The people here are wonderful, and their arms are wide open for us to come in and ask questions,” Pfc. Miranda Arndt, a medic with the Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry in Appleton, said. “It’s great.”
Arndt worked with both the UW football and women’s soccer teams during her week in Madison and said she received extensive training on taping joints and how to check for ligament tears.
“There’s definitely some things that we’re going to need to know, especially in 2020 with the rollout of the ACFT, the new Army combat readiness program,” said Sgt. Christina Whitney, a medic with the 135th Area Support Medical Company in Waukesha.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more musculoskeletal injuries, and I think it’s going to be really beneficial to be able to bring this home to our units,” she said.
She said that learning how to provide preventative care from the UW staff only helps broaden her experiences and offers a different perspective than the trauma training Army medics typically prioritize.
“I think as far as readiness is concerned, the more well-rounded you can be, the more ready you are,” Whitney said. “You don’t just want one little wheelhouse. If I’m in a combat situation and somebody has something going on and it’s not your A, B, C, that you have learned, I don’t want to be looking at it going, ‘now what?’ So the more certifications you can get, the more hands-on you can get, the better of you’re going to be. You want to be prepared and not need it as opposed to need it and not have it.”
“A lot of times we deal more with combat-related injuries, with trauma, and this week it’s been a lot different,” he said. “We’re seeing injuries with shoulders or knees, musculoskeletal and really learning what athletic trainers do and how that can benefit us as medics in the National Guard. So there’s a lot of benefit there.”
Building that readiness is critical to an organization like the Wisconsin National Guard, which is charged with serving simultaneously as both the first military responder here at home in times of emergency but also as the primary combat reserve for the Army and Air Force.
The Soldiers participating in the program rotate through different sports teams during their week on campus to get a more complete experience. The week culminates with medics joining the training staff on the sidelines of Wisconsin football and basketball games.