WASHINGTON - The Army has ordered an additional 172,000 modern tourniquets for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will begin distributing them next month, with the expectation that each soldier will be equipped with the life-saving device sometime this summer, officials said.
"We anticipate theaterwide distribution beginning in mid-April, with completion in three or four months, by July or August," said Cynthia Vaughan, a spokeswoman for the Army surgeon general.
There are about 44,000 of the tourniquets on hand or on order, officials said, and the manufacturer said a plant in South Carolina has hired additional workers to increase production.
The Army is expected to request more tourniquets so thousands of soldiers set to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan later this year will have them in new medical kits.
The Sun detailed the lack of modern tourniquets for soldiers in an article March 6, in which more than a dozen military doctors and medics said some soldiers had bled to death from battlefield injuries that might not have been life-threatening had a proper tourniquet been available.
Since at least a month before the war in Iraq began, medical experts in the Army and other services called on the Pentagon to equip every American soldier in the war zone with a modern tourniquet.
The simple first aid devices could all but eliminate deaths caused by blood loss from extremity wounds, they argue.
New manuals, pouch
But while the U.S. Central Command, which oversees combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, issued a directive Jan. 6 requiring soldiers to carry them, compliance was left up to the individual units and many did not acquire the devices.
One obstacle was that the military wanted first to develop new training manuals and a pouch for carrying the tourniquet, a process expected to take months.
After The Sun's article appeared, members of Congress wrote to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week and urged faster action.
"Holding up the fielding of a life-saving medical kit simply to optimize its carrying pouch suggests a mindset oblivious to the wartime needs of our soldiers," wrote two Senate Democrats, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Carl Levin of Michigan.
The $20 nylon and plastic device is a version of the basic cloth-and-stick tourniquets that armies have used for centuries to stop bleeding.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, this week lauded the Army's fast action on the modern tourniquets. About half of all combat troops in Iraq are Guard soldiers.
"Everybody's aware of it and everybody will push for this, which is a good thing," Blum said.
Army Ranger, Special Operations forces and U.S. Marines began to carry the modern tourniquets several years ago, and the senators said the delay for the remaining troops, particularly in time of war, "is nothing short of appalling."
After Rumsfeld received the senators' letter, the Army decided to expedite the tourniquet without waiting for field testing of the new kits, said the Army surgeon general's office.
Vaughan, the spokesman for the Army surgeon general, emphasized that more than 200,000 tourniquets of a variety of types already have been sent to the region over the past two years, though not all are the most modern tourniquets requested by Central Command.
"Tourniquets are out there, and soldiers are trained to use them," she said. "They may not be the most modern but they are effective to do the job."
Lack of orders
Before last week, manufacturers of the modern tourniquet said they were ready to produce as many as 100,000 per month, but the Pentagon had not placed any orders.
In February, a soldier with a Military Police company e-mailed a request for tourniquets to Operation AC, a Delaware nonprofit that ships supplies to deployed troops, saying none was available in Iraq.
Phil Durango, the manufacturer, donated 250 tourniquets, and Operation AC shipped them that month.
Rob Miller, director of research and development for North American Rescue Products, which works closely with Durango and produces combat casualty equipment such as litters and airway tools, said the company has added workers at its plant outside Columbia, S.C., to increase production of the modern tourniquets.
Miller, a former Army Ranger medic, said the company was producing 5,000 per month in April and will increase to about 50,000 to 60,000 in May and 100,000 by July. He expected the Army's new order to be filled by mid-July.
He also said Army officials are likely to request additional tourniquet orders for U.S. troops heading into Iraq and Afghanistan later this year.