Army to distribute tourniquets to troops sooner than planned

Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON - Faced with pressure from Congress, the Army has decided to quickly dispatch modern tourniquets to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and those soldiers set to deploy, more than two years after military doctors recommended that every soldier carry one.

"We have decided we have to expedite the new tourniquets," Virginia Stephanakis, a spokeswoman for the Army surgeon general, said last week.

"The intent is to have one for every soldier over there and for every soldier who is going to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan."

In an article March 6, The Sun described a lack of tourniquets among soldiers in the field and delays in supplying them.

Stephanakis had no immediate details on the number of tourniquets or a timetable by which they will be sent to U.S. troops, who number about 150,000 in Iraq and about 20,000 in Afghanistan.

The Army's Program Executive Office Soldier, based at Fort Belvoir, Va., whose mission is to arm and equip soldiers, will handle the purchase and distribution, she said.

A committee of military doctors urged in February 2003 that every soldier carry one of the $20 medical devices, a nylon and plastic version of the simple cloth-and-stick device armies have used to stop bleeding for centuries.

But many don't, and some have bled to death from wounds on which a tourniquet might have been effective, according to more than a dozen military doctors and medical specialists interviewed by The Sun.

The U.S. Central Command, which oversees combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, issued a directive Jan. 6 requiring all soldiers to carry a modern tourniquet.

However, compliance was left up to individual units, and many have not acquired the devices.

Three weeks ago, the Army's surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, approved a new first-aid kit for soldiers that includes a modern tourniquet and other life-saving equipment.

But the training manual was still being written and the kits were expected to be field tested, a process expected to take months.

Now, Stephanakis said that the tourniquets would be sent without waiting for the field testing of the new first-aid kits.

The Army's decision comes after two Senate Democrats, Carl Levin of Michigan and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, wrote to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asking for a review of the issue and a timetable for outfitting all soldiers with the tourniquet in light of the article in The Sun.

"The experts have determined that putting a life-saving tourniquet in the hands of every soldier is a vital life-saving measure," the two senators wrote. "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."

'Appalling' delay

Army Rangers, Special Operations troops and U.S. Marines began to carry the modern tourniquets several years ago, and the senators said the delay for remaining troops, particularly in time of war, "is nothing short of appalling."

Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, testifying before a Senate appropriations subcommittee last week, promised to provide a detailed report to the Senate on the tourniquets.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, said he was unaware that some troops don't have the tourniquets, adding, "I see no reason why there should be any shortage."

Manufacturers ready

Manufacturers say they are ready to produce as many as 100,000 tourniquets a month, but the Pentagon has not placed an order.

A soldier with the Army's 977th Military Police Company wrote an e-mail in February to Operation AC, a Delaware nonprofit group that ships air conditioners and other supplies to deployed troops, asking whether it could send tourniquets, saying the devices are not available in Iraq.

Phil Durango, the manufacturer, donated 250 tourniquets, and Operation AC shipped them a few weeks ago, according to Frankie Mayo, president of the group.

Mark Esposito, founder of Phil Durango, told The Sun his company has received large orders for tourniquets from regular Army units deployed to Iraq, such as the 3rd Infantry Division.

But he could not recall any orders from the Army's National Guard or Reserve units, which had 156,000 soldiers on active duty at the end of February and account for 43 percent of the roughly 150,000 soldiers in Iraq.

Supply problems

The delays in fielding the modern tourniquets are reminiscent of other supply problems that have beset the Army in the past two years, particularly in Iraq with the need for armor plating for vehicles and advanced bulletproof vests.

In both cases, after complaints from soldiers and family members, the Army found that it lacked an adequate number of those protections.

As a result, the Army spent additional billions of dollars and many months on armoring vehicles and making sure each soldier was equipped with the latest bulletproof vests.

But while every soldier now has the modern vest that contains protective plates in front and back, it will take at least several more months before all vehicles are equipped with armor plates.

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