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Master Sgt. Billy Fields: flexibility key to keeping the force healthy at Northern Strike 19

Aug. 2, 2019 | By Webmaster
08.02.2019 Story by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton 110th Wing  ALPENA, Mich. – “Northern Strike is just incredible. It’s non-stop, you’re exhausted by the end of it, but it really is fun to see the scope of how big this exercise is and to come away feeling satisfied that you’ve helped make it happen every year.” [caption id="attachment_2620" align="alignnone" width="300"]
VIRIN: 190807-N-XZ300-0031
Master Sgt. Billy Fields gives instructions during a medical mass casualty response exercise during Northern Strike 19 at Alpena Combat Readiness Center, Mich., July 26, 2019.
Northern Strike 19 is a National Guard Bureau-sponsored exercise uniting service members from more than 20 states, multiple service branches and seven coalition countries during the last two weeks of July 2019 at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, both located in northern Michigan and operated by the Michigan National Guard. The accredited Joint National Training Capability exercise demonstrates the Michigan National Guard’s ability to provide accessible, readiness-building opportunities for military units from all service branches to achieve and sustain proficiency in conducting mission command, air, sea and ground maneuver integration, together with the synchronization of fires in a joint, multinational, decisive action environment (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton) These are the words of Master Sgt. Billy Fields, independent duty medical technician for Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., spoken during a free moment at Northern Strike 19, the Department of Defense’s largest joint, reserve component readiness exercise. Held annually in Northern Michigan at Alpena CRTC and Camp Grayling, Northern Strike this year has approximately 6,000 participants representing more than 20 U.S. states and seven coalition partner countries. The exercise is a synchronized beast of combat power, integrating air and land components to deliver a dynamic and realistic training environment. In the midst of Northern Strike’s high-pressure ops tempo, Fields is maintains a serene outlook. “I’m a pretty laid-back person,” Fields said. “So for me, part of the fun of Northern Strike is dealing with all the curve balls and saying, ‘we will make it happen, one way or the other.’” Fields has a daunting task in front of him. For the duration of Northern Strike 19, held July 22 – Aug. 2, he is responsible for Alpena’s real-world medical facilities while also orchestrating a battery of training exercises designed to build interoperability between participating medical personnel, including specialists form the Colorado National Guard and the National Armed Forces of Latvia. “We’re keeping everybody here ready to go out and complete the mission on the real-world side of it, plus there’s a lot of training that we get ourselves during the exercise,” Fields said. “This week we did a mass-casualty exercise and we did some nine-line training to practice how a medevac would be called in. We’ve also gotten to do a lot of IV training and monitor training.” During Alpena’s sick call hours, patients are seen daily for everything from poison ivy exposure to sprains and broken bones. For as much as Fields seems at home inside Alpena’s clinic or during a first responder exercise, the path that led him to Alpena was long and winding. A native of Alabama, Fields recounts his story in his characteristic drawl. “I was active duty for four years – a loggie, believe it or not,” he says. “Did four years and then got out and went back to Alabama to raise my daughter. After a job transfer up to New York, I was thinking about going back to school to become a registered nurse.” Having transplanted his family to New York, Fields heard that the New York Air National Guard was looking to hire medics. “I thought, ‘you know, I kind of miss the military thing; I could handle that for one weekend a month,’ and honestly the health insurance was what I wanted,” Fields said. “So I came back in, never dreaming that I would go back full-time.” In the end, Fields did just that, applying in 2012 for a position as an Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS) instructor at Alpena CRTC. “No joke, the first time I ever heard someone talking about Alpena, I thought it was in the Middle East,” he says. “I had never been to Alpena but I put the package in and said, ‘I’ll never get this job.’" One thing led to another, Fields was selected, and before he knew it he had moved to Alpena for what he thought was a stable position. Then, fate intervened again. “At the very first staff meeting I went to, they told me they were closing the EMEDS school,” Fields said. “Actually, that provided me the opportunity to become the IDMT, which is what I’m doing now. Don’t get me wrong, EMEDs was a fun job, but the experience I’ve had as an IDMT has just been great.” For the two weeks of Northern Strike, Alpena CRTC is practically engulfed in a special fervor. For the other fifty weeks of the year, Fields says the CRTC clinic is still busy. Besides maintaining certifications and documentation, he serves as a subject-matter expert during frequent engagements with medical counterparts in Latvia, part of the Michigan National Guard’s vibrant bond with Latvia under the U.S. National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. “The biggest thing we’re looking at with the Latvians is working together to build up their flight medicine program,” he said. “We do sustainment training and practice the skills for all the mass casualties and aircraft mishap exercises we do together to make sure we’re as ready for anything as we can be.” Now in his seventh year at Alpena CRTC, Fields says he’s in Michigan to stay. “I’ll retire from here in seven years. Then I hope to sit on the front porch and rock a lot.” For servicemembers who plan to participate at Northern Strike in the future, Fields has some sound advice: “I’m a firm believer that everything works out the way it’s supposed to. So stay flexible – those are the key words for this exercise.”