How M Simulation Staff Serving in the National Guard Helped with the Evacuation of Americans and Afghans in Kabul
By day, Eugene Floersch, Jon Chaika, and Ana Brakke serve as part of the team at M Simulation, located within the Health Sciences Education Center, where they help design and deliver simulated training experiences for health sciences learners at the University as preparation for clinical practice.
Their camaraderie and sense of family comes from years of experience working together in a different setting: the U.S. Army National Guard, 34th Infantry Division (Red Bulls), 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team. All three have served as combat medics, specialists who administer emergency medical care in the field for both combat and humanitarian situations, serving as first responders to triaging illnesses and injuries in order to save lives.
For the past year, Chaika and Brakke were stationed in Kuwait with a medical platoon involved in critical training and military operations. The first half of the deployment was focused around providing rapid medical response to the surrounding region. In August 2021, Chaika and Brakke were part of the medical unit of the Minnesota National Guard that was activated to help secure the airport in Kabul during the evacuation of Americans and Afghans.
Student worker and Army Specialist Ana Brakke served as part of Bravo Company on the front line trauma team. Brakke was a part of the first wave to arrive at the Kabul airport to secure the area. They were met with an airfield flooded with civilians, buildings and quarters full of items and goods abandoned.
Lead simulation specialist and Army Staff Sergeant Jon Chaika was in Kuwait preparing the medical teams for what was to follow. Thousands of Afghan evacuees were sent from Kabul airport to Chaika and the medical team to make sure their injuries and needs were addressed immediately.
Eugene Floersch, who goes by E.B., is a simulation specialist and recently retired Army Corporal who served in the 34th I.D., 2-136th Combined Arms Battalion, HHC, Medical Platoon for almost a decade.
“Although there are designated occupations within the military, when emergencies happen, we always come together to be extremely resourceful teams that can succeed at any task,” said Floersch. “Many of the soldiers from the National Guard brought with them the skills and experience from their full-time civilian jobs/vocations to help manage the emergency in Kabul.”
As simulation educators, the M Simulation team develops and implements innovative simulation-scenarios for trainees to learn in a safe environment.
“Sometimes learners don’t always buy into the story, and one thing that helps is pulling from our personal experiences to help convey the gravity of a situation,” said Floersch. “This is why we train. You can make mistakes here in simulation without negative side effects. That way when you're out there, you’ll be able to prevent making those same errors and succeed, which could save lives.”
There are students, staff, and faculty members at the University who have served or are actively serving in the military. Returning to civilian life as a full-time student or employee can be a challenging transition for a number of reasons, including culture shock and changes in environment.
“The majority of people I knew enlisted in the military at 18 years old. I was put in charge of things that most civilian employees wouldn’t be in charge of until their mid-30s,” said Floersch. “One of the major things I’ve learned is leadership and teamwork skills; they're forged in those early years. When you come back to the civilian side, you might be 25 years old but you have all this experience and leadership—as leaders in the military we truly were responsible for people. We needed to make sure they were being trained and led to not only complete the mission, but that they also had meals, a place to sleep between missions, and that their families had the resources they needed while we were away.”
Floersch added, “What we go through by serving in the military and holding a regular civilian job can be really tough, and yet we do it. There are many amazing people that hold a strong composure, especially Jon, Ana, and others on our medical team who make everyone else around them feel like what they are doing is a breeze, even though what they do takes a tremendous amount of effort and resilience.”
The close-knit trio shares a deep connection because of their shared backgrounds and experiences, all of which contribute to their collaboration as a part of the M Simulation team.
After returning safely to Kuwait back into their roles of providing a rapid response force and continuing combat training, Brakke and Chaika are making their way home to Minnesota