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Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Lemoore supports NAS Lemoore’s search and rescue and security units in Eastern Sierra Mountains

On Saturday, September 30, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a medical emergency near Garnet Lake and Thousand Island Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a treacherous hiking trail that stretches several thousand miles through the Eastern Sierras within the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

While attempting to rescue the injured hiker, a NAS Lemoore SAR helicopter experienced difficulties and made a hard landing at a high elevation. The four service members onboard suffered minor injuries and were extracted by another agency’s SAR unit.

Chief Hospital Corpsman John R. Tugman, Chief Hospital Corpsman Michael C. Carter and Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Ildegar J. Mora were a part of the healthcare team from NMRTC Lemoore who provided medical coverage to support the NAS Lemoore security team in the forest. Hospital Corpsman 1st class Jeremy D. Williams and Hospital Corpsman 2nd class Paul C. Cavanaugh from Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit (NMRTU) Fallon also provided medical coverage during the almost one-month long assignment. NMRTU Fallon is a unit of NMRTC Lemoore.

“I was a part of the initial response team that went in to recover and secure items from the aircraft such as radios and the black box,” said Tugman. “The weather, terrain and elevation made for a challenging environment. Most of the team had little to no experience working in those conditions. We were hit on the first night with a good snowstorm with temperatures dipping into the 20s. We started with a team of eight and by day three we were left with just three (people) due to altitude sickness.”

Mora, a fleet Marine force (FMF) hospital corpsman, with prior deployment experience with the U.S. Marine Corps and is well versed in cold weather survival as a mountain medicine instructor.

“The biggest medical concern associated with this mission was the possibility of someone going through altitude mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE),” said Mora. “My background as an instructor helped me deal with these illnesses and how to best treat patients.”

The topography where the helicopter was located was rugged and difficult to maneuver. The team from Lemoore and Fallon needed to hike daily through challenging terrain along the PCT to get to the helicopter site.

“I conducted daily medical safety briefs prior to the security team’s 12-mile round trip hike to the helicopter site,” said Mora. “Upon their return I would check the team for any injuries or health concerns.”

The cold weather and landscape presented challenges, besides the altitude.

“We had to devise a CASEVAC (casualty evacuation) plan which uses non-standardized and non-dedicated vehicles for a potentially injured Sailor. We also trained the team on proper clothing to wear during hikes. This was instrumental in preventing heat related injuries as well as cold weather injuries,” said Mora.

The five hospital corpsmen from Lemoore and Fallon rotated providing care and were embedded with the security team from NAS Lemoore. During their down time in the Eastern Sierras from Sept. 30 to Oct. 20, 2023, they were able to spend time with the MAs or master-at-arms and learn about each other’s Navy rates or jobs.

Both Tugman and Mora are eager to get back to the mountains.

“It was really an interesting experience,” said Tugman. “We ran into people hiking the PCT. One guy I talked to was hiking from the U.S. and Mexico border back to his home in Portland, Oregon.”

According to the USDA Forest Service website, the PCT is 2,650 miles long and it starts near Campo, California near the U.S. and Mexico border. It ends at the U.S. and Canada border at Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia. The PCT was one of the first National Scenic Trails established by Congress in 1968 with the National Trails System Act, along with the Appalachian Trail. The PCT crosses 26 national forests, seven national parks, five state parks and four national monuments.

“The Eastern Sierras are amazing,” said Tugman. “I will be spending a lot of time in the future exploring this area.”

Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Lemoore is co-located with Naval Health Clinic Lemoore. The command and clinic ensure the readiness of its active-duty service members and improves the lives of military families through the delivery of high-quality healthcare to over 14,000 eligible beneficiaries at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California and NAS Fallon, Nevada.

The command also provides dental care and medical administrative support to Navy, Marine Corps, and international students at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Defense Language Institute and the Center for Information Dominance in Monterey, California. Its mission is to advance the readiness and health of our warfighters and beneficiaries and to invest in our people and partnerships.

Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit Fallon/Naval Branch Health Clinic Fallon, Nevada is a unit of Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Lemoore/Naval Health Clinic Lemoore, California. The medical unit in Fallon provides outpatient medical care to active-duty service members and its
dependents assigned to, and within a 30-mile radius of, Naval Air Station Fallon.