Soldiers in Afghanistan go to great lengths to prevent being injured. Sometimes, though, even their best efforts are not enough and an improvised explosive device strikes a vehicle or soldier is injured by small arms fire, at which point, combat medics spring into action and apply their training in order to save the soldier's life, limbs or eyesight.
A combat medic’s ability to take action and save lives, in what are often chaotic scenarios, is the culmination of years of instruction that usually begins in their Advanced Individual Training, which follows basic training. The classes for medics include trauma based training such as the BCT3 - brigade combat team trauma training - prior to being sent to their unit, explained Sgt. Michael Hood, Senior Line Medic for Battle Company, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, Task Force 1st Squadron 14th Cavalry Regiment. The BCT3 provides instruction on tactical combat casualty care for combat medics assigned to brigade combat teams. The training focuses on controlling bleeding, treating chest wounds and their associated problems, and clearing airway obstructions.
Once at their unit, a medic's training does not stop. In addition to their usual academic training, medics routinely go over their skills by means of mock casualty scenarios, which are designed to create a more realistic situation, explained Hood. Such training prepares them for their annual verification process, called Table 8, which is designed to replicate a battle setting where their medical skills would be needed.
"Table 8 is a skills verification that they do in conjunction with our EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) recertification training where you have to demonstrate all of your skills," said Spc. Michael Henchen another of Battle Company's line medics. “The training involves a team of two medics entering a darkened room where their ability to triage and treat several simulated casualties is tested in a timed exercise, explained Henchen. The key to passing Table 8 is communication,” Henchen added.
Yet medics cannot be everywhere all the time which is why they count on Combat Lifesavers, who are non-medical soldiers trained to provide advanced first aid and life-saving procedures beyond the level of self-aid or buddy aid.
CLS training is provided to other soldiers, by the medics themselves, in a week long class. It is not designed to take the place of medical personnel, explains Hood, but allows soldiers to provide immediate care to a wounded soldier's condition until medics arrive. The focus of such training largely centers on what is referred to as MARCHH; Massive bleeding, airway, respiration, circulation, head trauma and head to toe injuries.
”They get the background on (MARCHH) over the first three days and the last two days we … do a lot of hands on," explained Hood. "The fourth day we do more hands on and the fifth day we do a … scenario based exercise (that) gets them to do it under pressure."
The training a medic goes through is pretty much nonstop. If they are not training themselves, they are providing it to other non-medical soldiers. While there may be a lot of training, the medics of Battle Company feel it is worth it in the end when their training enables them to save lives, and at the end of the day that is all that matters.
Article by Sgt. Christopher McCullough, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division