FORT BRAGG (WTVD) -- The situation at Womack Army Medical Center was frightening, to say the least.
A man draped in military-style body armor entered the front door of Fort Bragg's Clark Clinic, taking a pharmaceutical technician hostage, shooting down the staff and patients from the front door through the hallways until Womack Security Forces shot him down, subduing him.
It was Friday afternoon's simulated exercise that Womack Army Medical Center had prepared for months, demonstrating the harsh realities leadership is faced with addressing.
"I think this type of training is definitely needed with our nation with many of the unfortunate events that happen in our nation," said Clark Clinic's Officer in Charge, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Portee. "I think this training needs to become a part of the norm, cause there's a lot of folks out there who do bad things to innocent people and the better we prepare for it, the more lives we can save."
"Being on a military base and all the things that have happened in the past few years, it kind of gives us an idea of what could possibly happen," added Royanna Morris, a pharmacist who participated in the exercise.
Clark Clinic was just one of nine WAMC facilities participating in mass casualty training. The clinics involved included the Hope Mills and Fayetteville Medical Homes.
The training did not impact the civilian communities, but it shut the clinics down at 1 p.m., and patients were re-routed to the main hospital for their prescription needs. They were also provided a nurses' hotline, or directed to the open Emergency Department as medical personnel conducted the training.
An additional exercise was conducted on Post involving a plane crash later in the evening, but the shooting exercise was identified by medical leadership as the point of vulnerability for its staff.
"Active shooter is something we think would probably happen more than anything else," said Captain Michael Kelly, Operations Supervisor for Womack Security Forces.
REAL LIFE-SCRIPTED AND UNSCRIPTED
At Clark Clinic, the afternoon's exercise began with a briefing in a front conference room, billed as the Web Emergency Operations Center. In the EOC, military personnel can electronically communicate with civilian authorities to manage a possible emergency situation involving multiple jurisdictions.
The plan for the mass casualty exercise began with preparations that started months ago, but the clinic staff was only informed of the roles they'd play in the days leading up to the exercise.
Morris, who was grazed by a bullet in the simulation, knew there would be an active shooter. She even knew which direction to watch him enter the building, but she wasn't prepared for her reaction when the man actually came through firing off shots that lit up the hallways.
When they came that the door with the guns and everything, with the technician, the screams were real," Morris admitted, noting the anxiety that came along with the quick decisions she was expected to make regarding victim assistance.
Adding to the realistic training was a mock Post Traumatic Stress Disorder victim, who frantically paced the clinic's entryway, warning the staff to back away.
His anxiety had to be managed carefully as a staff member gently asked him to identify his unit and some of his experiences. The man eventually calmed down and came out of a corner fetal position to walk with that staff member in the shooting aftermath.
The unscripted portion was the Security Forces response to the shooter. The team decided to subdue him after he let go of a hostage.
Kelly was taking notes, watching many of the force's newest members.
"(I was ) seeing what my guys are doing wrong, seeing what they're doing right, and seeing what we can do to help protect this facility a whole lot better," Kelly said.
The mock shooter's background wasn't clearly defined in the exercise, but he navigated the building with precision.
Portee said the man playing the part was an Army retiree with extensive operational and combat experience. He helped add to the realism of the exercise.
As staff members figured out how to care for wounded patients and where to put them, Portee said he observed the expected chaos in the aftermath.
"So I think more drills are needed so if that were to happen in the future, we could reduce the chaos," he said.
WAMC leadership will evaluate the exercise results and re-visit a similar exercise in the fall.