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February 25, 2013

DOD and Combat Training -- Limiting the Casualties

For years, the U.S. Department of Defense has intentionally hurt animals, including dogs, in order to simulate “battlefield wounds,” for the purpose of medical combat training for treatment of injured soldiers. Upon learning of these in-field “experiments” with animals, the public demanded change and better ways to help our troops in crisis. In response, in the 1980s and early 1990s, Congress put an end to the military inflicting wounds on dogs, cats and primates for the purpose of conducting surgical or medical training. Unfortunately, they just swapped species and the DOD is still inflicting awful harm upon animals, despite the availability of superior training alternatives.

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Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Today, the Washington Post reported that public concern over these experiments has not abated. Congress has again weighed in on this issue, through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, and has requested that the Pentagon present a report on how the military plans to phase out the use of all animals for combat training. According to The Post, this “marks the first time Congress has ordered the Pentagon to provide a detailed plan to start relying less on animals and more on simulators.”

For combat training purposes, the military burns, shoots, stabs and breaks the bones of animals. One whistleblower captured footage of the legs of goats being taken off with tree trimmers as part of Coast Guard training. In another case, the military attempted to conduct their trainings off site, seemingly in order to avoid public attention, although a media outlet successfully captured footage of the training.

Everyone wants our military personnel to have the best medical treatment possible if their missions go wrong or they are otherwise injured. But the archaic practice of injuring animals won’t provide the best training possible. There are significant anatomical, biological and physiological differences between pigs, goats and humans.

Last week, I wrote about our efforts to increase the government’s investment in alternatives to using animals in harmful research and testing. The great news is that, in this case, there are effective alternatives available, so there is no need to use animals for military trauma training. Some examples are high fidelity simulators that simulate a living human, cadavers, and experience in human trauma centers. These alternatives again represent amazing innovation and can be used in combination.

We look forward to the Pentagon’s report and hope that military trauma training on all animals will be a closed chapter for the finest, most sophisticated, innovative, and, one day perhaps, the most humane military in the world. 

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