First Blood: moulage brings life to training

  • Published
  • By Chris Farley
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office

Staff Sgt. Sara Syverhus’, 934th Aeromedical Staging Squadron medical technician, right leg has a compound fracture.

Instead of her pain level climaxing at a solid 10 on the pain scale, which is symbolic of a person enduring an absurd amount of pain, she smiles and feels nothing.

Maj. Deanna Jensen, a clinical nurse with the 934 ASTS, is tending to and is the cause of Syverhus’ compound fracture. Instead of applying lifesaving care, Jensen uses white clay to cast an imitation fragment of cracked bone breaking through the skin of Syverhus’ right shin. Jensen also dabs a paintbrush into different hues of light and dark red colors to simulate blood on Syverhus’ wound. The wound needs to look as real as possible for a mass casualty exercise occurring shortly after she’s done.

Jensen is the full-time moulage artist at exercise Viking Shield, the newest flyaway mission for the 934th Airlift Wing Airmen. This week-long exercise led by the 934 AW started at the beginning of April with the focus of testing 934 AW Airmen’s combat and related skills in an austere environment. Additionally, the exercise took these Citizen Airmen out of their normal routine unit training assembly and placed them into an environment with a wealth of training space and opportunities that are not available at Minneapolis-Air Reserve Station, Min.

Moulage is the art of creating lifelike wounds with the objective of designing realistic training. In Jensen’s case, she didn’t learn this ability the traditional way by going to a school. Instead, she’s learned her cosmetic skillset from watching videos and practicing. Therefore, if Viking Shield was a low-budget horror film, Jensen would have been the movie make-up artist.

Jensen was recruited to moulage all the casualties for the mass casualty events at exercise Heavy METL in Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich. 934 ASTS liked her work and they recruited her again to perform the same services.

Jensen said the easy wounds to create are burns and lacerations. However today, she’s looking forward to crafting her first compound fracture and sprucing up a sucking chest wound.

“We want to add Alka-Seltzer to a sucking chest wound. The Alka-Seltzer with a little water makes the wound bubble,” said Jensen.

During the creation process, Syverhus constantly watches Jensen use her shin as a painter works a canvas. “I know; it's really great. It looks so real. Every time I look down at my leg, I want to throw up. I just have to remind myself, it’s just makeup,” said Syverhus.

Tech. Sgt. Julia Matthews, 934 ASTS medical case manager, says the moulage at Viking Shield is fantastic because it looks great and provides a level of realism when casualties are tended to. “When we have moulage it helps significantly because we can go right to the patient and see what's going on instead of us talking to them and asking them what their pain card says.”

Jensen said she had more opportunities to moulage at Viking Shield, however, she still had challenges, but also rewards. “On day one this year, I used moulage on the patients in a van while traveling in the first convoy. This was challenging because there was limited room and the moulage can be very messy. On the second day, we were in a conference room and I had plenty of time. With the extra time, I was able to figure out how to make a sucking chest wound bubble.”

Since the 934 ASTS invested into moulage, it’s significantly helped in creating a level of realism for these types of exercises. Additionally, having a dedicated person allows for more time to design and create more elaborate and superficial wounds to challenge Airmen. This results in more resilient Airmen capable and prepared for real-world situations.