Combat Lifesaver

It is a sad fact that people in war will be wounded or injured. If you have been watching the news at all the last few years, you know that the Army goes to great expense and trouble to provide emergency care and evacuation to its casulties. One program that hasn’t made the news is one of the most important, and ironically, just about the cheapest one.

Anyone who has seen a war movie has watched a scene where a soldier is wounded and the cry goes out, “MEDIC!” And of course, the medic comes to treat the fallen warrior. But there’s only one medic per platoon. If a Humvee with four people in it is hit with an IED, who treats the other three? Do we just wait? In a trauma situation, time is priceless. Anyone who has studied trauma has heard of “The Golden Hour.” If you can get someone treated within the first 60 minutes, their chances of survival skyrocket. But even more precious is the first 10 minutes. So what do we do with the three wounded soldiers while our medic concentrates on one? We use the Combat Lifesaver.

Every soldier receives training on first aid (self aid/buddy aid) in basic training. This training usually focuses on bandaging gunshot wounds and such. But there is a wide gap between this training and the specialized trauma training a medic receives. The Combat Lifesaver is the bridge between these two skillsets.

The goal is for every squad or vehicle crew to have one of its members qualified as a combat lifesaver. This is a soldier, who, in addition to his regular duties, has trained to give additional aid to the wounded when a medic is not available. The skills trained include:

Basic casualty evaluation

Airway management

Chest injury and tension pnuemothorax management

Controlling bleeding

Preventing and treating shock

Administering an IV

Requesting Medical Evacuation/Casualty Evacuation*

To help the CLS perform these duties, each squad or vehicle carries a small but carefully equipped aid bag, designed to fit the skills and likely scenarios that a CLS will encounter.

I was first trained as a CLS in 1990. By the time my unit left for Desert Storm, every member of the company had gone through the training. Most of the training was fairly basic and not that difficult to grasp. The only part that most folks had never encountered before was starting IV’s. And there’s really only one way to learn. You have to poke someone in the arm. Sure, you get to practice on a plastic arm first, but sooner or later, you have to stick a needle in flesh to learn how it is done. This is done in buddy teams. You stick me, I stick you. I always made sure the other guy stuck me first, because if I was having a bad day and using him like a pin-cushion, I didn’t want him to have a chance at revenge. To stay current, our instructors reminded us that an IV was a good cure for a hangover. Come Saturday moring in the barracks, it looked like a hospital ward with half the people stuck with an IV drip. We carried our CLS bags in our cars when off duty. I personally know of two people saved at auto accidents by CLS. And I know people that were saved in training accidents the same way.

At a very minor cost in equipment and training time, the Army has greatly raised the chances for wounded soldiers to not only survive, but fully recover.