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The Bridgewater-Vaccaro Medical Simulation Training Center at Fort Drum was dedicated in June 2007, to honor two combat medics who served in battle more than 60 years apart but who shared a bond of selfless service and sacrifice. (Graphic by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Facility honors medics separated by decades, united by legacy of selfless service, sacrifice 

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 13, 2023) – When people talk about the medical training facility at Fort Drum, it sounds like they are saying “Mystic,” but it’s really the Bridgewater-Vaccaro Medical Simulation Training Center, or MSTC.

The MSTC is named after two 10th Mountain Division combat medics who served more than 60 years apart but who shared a bond of selfless service and sacrifice.

Tech Sgt. Horace A. Bridgewater enlisted in the Army from his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, and joined the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, Colorado, as a medic with the 85th Infantry Regiment during World War II.

After the audacious moonlight climb by the 86th Infantry Regiment to secure Riva Ridge in the northern Apennine Mountains of Italy, the assault on the mine-infested slopes of Mount Belvedere commenced on Feb. 19, 1945. Six battalions of the 85th Infantry Regiment and 87th Infantry Regiment led the way, remaining undetected for nearly two hours of the ascent.

A little past midnight, a barrage of machine gun and mortar fire from the Germans began the uphill battle to take control of the summit. Medics got to work bandaging bloody wounds and splintering broken bones, while overseeing the removal of severely injured Soldiers on litters.

Bridgewater, amidst the chaos and confusion, responded to calls for medics from his platoon mates and continually searched through the darkness for more wounded Soldiers. While an adjacent platoon was pinned down by heavy German shelling, he scrambled to their location and began treating the wounded, moving four to safety.

On Feb. 20, while searching for more casualties, Bridgewater was instantly killed by a mortar shell that exploded nearby.

In 1945, 39 medics from the 10th Mountain Division died in service to their fellow Soldiers during the campaign in northern Italy. Bridgewater was among eight who were posthumously awarded the Silver Star. During the MSTC dedication ceremony in 2007, Jake Bridgewater spoke about his brother.

“He was one of the best men and one of the best Soldiers I ever knew,” he said. “He was a caring man and never once complained about his duty.”

In 2006, another combat medic distinguished himself in the line of duty while serving with the 10th Mountain Division (LI) in Korengal, Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Cpl. Angelo J. Vaccaro enlisted in March 2004 as an Army medic, and he was assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division (LI), at Fort Drum.

After deploying to Afghanistan in 2006 as a member of Task Force Chosin, Vaccaro participated in numerous operations throughout the Pech River and Korengal valleys, to include more than 40 mounted patrols and over 100 dismounted patrols.

On July 5, Vaccaro evacuated three wounded Soldiers from a 7,500-foot ridgeline. One at a time, he hauled the casualties over his shoulder and away from enemy fire to a location where he could treat their wounds.

During another firefight in September, Vaccaro rescued a seriously wounded Soldier while sustaining a shrapnel injury himself. He covered the casualty with his own body and returned suppressive fire toward the enemy. Vaccaro dragged the wounded Soldier to safety for further medical aid before he searched for others in need of care.

Vaccaro received the Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his actions. Less than a month later, he distinguished himself again in battle.

On Oct. 2, Vaccaro learned that his unit was engaged in heavy combat and had suffered casualties. As the senior medic stationed at the Korengal Outpost tactical operations center, he immediately volunteered to assist with a dangerous ground extraction.

In his attempt to evacuate casualties from the battlefield, a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle and Vaccaro was killed instantly. He posthumously received a second Silver Star – becoming the first service member to do so in the Global War on Terrorism. He also was awarded a second Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Construction of the MSTC at Fort Drum began in late 2006 to replace an existing training center with state-of-the-art, realistic simulation capabilities for combat medics and civilian rescue and medical personnel. The facility, located on Nash Boulevard, was completed within nine months, and it was officially dedicated as the Bridgewater-Vaccaro Medical Simulation Training Center on June 22, 2007.

At the ceremony, a medical platoon sergeant from 1-32 Infantry Regiment read a letter that Vaccaro’s best friend wrote. It said, in part:

“He was an impact-maker. He loved his job, he loved his guys, and he loved his family. He changed my life, and if you knew him, I’m sure he changed yours.”

The MSTC continues to host thousands of service members annually with combat lifesaving and medical training courses, as well as collaborative training events with health care professionals and first responders from local medical facilities.