Op UNIFIER’s Combat Medical training: working to save lives in Ukraine


By: Sergeant Norman Vanderwiel, Chief Combat Medical Instructor, Operation UNIFIER

Operation UNIFIER’s Combat Medical Training Team has been working with the staff and instructors of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) since the mission started in 2015. The importance of this training was reflected in 2017 when the AFU established the Main Military Medical Directorate in Kyiv, as well as the 205th Tactical Medical Training Centre (TMTC) in Desna. Operation UNIFIER’s medical training staff have key roles in both of these establishments. They also contribute to the hands-on first-aid training the soldiers receive before rotating into the Joint Forces Operation zone.

For the members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) who work in the medical training stream of Operation UNIFIER, the importance of their training is very real. “I’ve heard some sobering stories from our AFU students when they begin their training,” said Sergeant Norman Vanderwiel, the senior instructor with the Combat Medical Training Team in Desna. “Many of them want this training because they don’t want to see any of their friends die.” His staff is responsible for mentoring the Ukrainian instructors who deliver combat medical training.

The training received at the 205th TMTC helps Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines to save lives. It gives them the knowledge and training to apply life-saving first aid, as well as other crucial techniques that can either prevent those with minor injuries from leaving their post, or increase the survival rate of more serious injuries that need advanced care away from the frontlines.

The training model at the 205th TMTC is based on the American 68W program; the US Combat Medic specialization has been modified to reflect the AFU’s combat medical needs. Ukrainian instructors who have completed this training are eager to teach others and have offered to stay and help the training center grow. The mentorship provided by the Operation UNIFIER staff has given the AFU instructors confidence while ensuring that the correct information is being taught and applied.

The application of this training was seen most recently during an AFU visit to the Joint Forces Operation zone where the Ukrainian 66th Field Hospital is tasked with caring for injured soldiers. The efforts at the 205th TMTC are making a difference; the commander of the 66th Field Hospital stated that his unit has noticed that soldiers coming to the hospital from the frontline arrive in better condition, and this goes a long way to improving survivability and the overall level of care.

The centre still has a long way to go to produce the number of qualified Combat Medics that is needed in the AFU, as well as changing the perception of this new asset; there are some units that are learning how to effectively employ their Combat Medics. The Operation UNIFIER Combat Medical Training Team is working to show how this training can be a force multiplier, as well as providing guidance on changes that will shorten the training program and formally establish a Combat Medic trade.

With all these changes still in the works, the staff in the 205th TMTC do what they do best: teach and mentor the AFU staff and students with an eye towards further development in this important field.

Image gallery

  • Op UNIFIER Combat Medic Senior Instructor, Sergeant Norman Vanderweil, offers himself as a learning aid during “Care under Fire” training. Students perform basic medical tasks after a brief run in full military gear to test their procedural recall and ability to safely provide medical care in tense situations, 7 September, 2018.
  • Three Ukrainian soldiers perform a medical procedure as part of an exercise.
  • A group of Ukrainian soldiers practice medical procedures in a forest.
  • Ukrainian soldiers wrap another Ukrainian soldier in an insulated blanket.