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July 23, 2008

Traumatic Training

Pig running in dirt
© iStockphoto

The U.S. Army takes pride in innovation—in its sophisticated weaponry, high-tech equipment, and protective armor. Yet one area in which the Army is failing to innovate is in training soldiers to provide emergency medical attention to wounded comrades on the battlefield. The latest example came last week, when the Associated Press reported that Army personnel shot live pigs at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii so that soldiers could treat these intentionally inflicted wounds. A disgusted soldier tipped off People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which went public with the information immediately before the exercise—which nonetheless went forward.

Sadly, the U.S. military has been intentionally wounding animals for decades in an archaic attempt to hone emergency medical training procedures. The Army once used dogs in such exercises but apparently switched to pigs in the hope of generating less controversy.

While the goal is right, the means are all wrong. Medical personnel in civilian life obtain trauma training through apprenticeships in urban trauma centers and through repeated practice on human-like simulators. Such simulators are surprisingly good at reproducing the look and feel of the human body, tissue, and fluids.

The soldiers deserve better. Whatever our views of a particular war, we shouldn’t deny battlefield victims access to the best in emergency medical attention. They're not getting this, and in the process of using archaic training techniques, the Army is causing needless suffering and loss of life.

Earlier this week I wrote to Army Secretary Pete Geren to urge him to switch to more modern and humane methods of giving their soldiers medical training (you can read my letter here). If these methods fall short in the judgment of our military leaders, the onus is on them to explain why and to use their powers of innovation to overcome any perceived shortcomings. If you’d like to join me in calling upon the Army to do better, please submit your comments to the Department of Defense.

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