Army medics put to the test in School of Combat Medicine

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Fake blood spewed, smoke billowed, strobe lights flashed and two high-tech dummies with limbs blown off lay on the ground.

"Medic! Somebody call a medic!" a woman shrieked as the sound of gunfire erupted from the shadows.

In rushed Pfc. Merinda Karn, 20, with aid bag in hand for a test of her medic skills.

As the insurgents in Iraq step up their attacks, the Army has increased the intensity of its training of battlefield medics. That has meant moving the training from classrooms to more realistic settings and teaching medics to keep fighting the enemy - even if it means sometimes delaying treatment of the wounded.

"That's one thing we teach them - when to delay and when you can't," said Capt. Brad Tibbetts, the officer in charge of the Alfred V. Rascon School of Combat Medicine at Fort Campbell.

This year, about 500 medics and others who work in small, isolated units will undergo training at the school. They attend the class partly to refresh skills they acquired during a 16-week course at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where all new Army medics take civilian emergency medical technician classes and study battlefield techniques.

Much of the training at the Fort Campbell school is conducted using lifelike dummies controlled by computers.

Master Sgt. Luis Rodriguez, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the training at the school, is a former medic who was hit by mortar fire in Iraq. He lost a leg, but the use of a tourniquet helped save his life. He said the first thing he tells the medics is that the enemy will fire at them even if they are rendering aid, and they must be prepared to fight.

"The most important piece of equipment isn't your aid bag; it's your rifle," Rodriguez said.

Fort Campbell started holding the final test for the class in a dark room after 101st Airborne Division medics returning from Afghanistan said they were not prepared to treat the wounded without light.

Karn, who weighs about 140 pounds, was out of breath when she ran in to take the test because she had run six miles that morning and then dragged a 185-pound soldier about 200 yards before dashing into the room.

She flunked the test because in the dark she failed to feel an exit wound in the back of her "casualty," and it "died."

Afterward, the lights came on in the room and taps played. An instructor discussed what she did wrong.

"I just wasn't as thorough as I should've been," Karn said, before leaving the room to write a letter to the "casualty's" parents, also part of the medic training.

Tibbetts said it is OK to make mistakes here.

"I guarantee she probably won't miss it again," he said. "If they learn it here, that's a good thing."

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