Small Surgery Team Revolutionizes Combat Medicine

A soldier pulls security in the tall grass as medics work to evacuate a simulated casualty in the distance.

The war in Afghanistan has been winding down over the last few months in the effort to end our participation at current levels by December 31st of this year. Thousands of troops have come home and dozens of military bases have been closed, including the big hospital facilities that have been working so successfully in country since the beginning of the war in 2003.

These hospital facilities and the military medical units associated with them have developed very efficient systems for saving the lives of our wounded troops, including helicopter and huge transport planes outfitted as flying medical units. This sophisticated system made it possible for them do sophisticated emergency surgical procedures within what is known as the “Golden Hour” after being wounded, enhancing survival rates from the devastating wounds of that war exponentially. These are almost all gone now. But a unique and experimental medical unit from Fort Carson, Colorado has revolutionized forward medical care for wounded troops during an experiment that the 29-member group participated in during a recent nine month tour in Afghanistan.

Moving On Up

This small group from Fort Carson, Colorado took the current situation, as we wind down from our participation in Afghanistan, and created smaller, more agile, yet still highly sophisticated, surgical units into the field, pushing ever closer to the fighting troops. They have developed these forward surgical units to be used with Special Forces units and expeditionary forces. These smaller teams are made up of two surgeons, two anesthesiologists, and one combat medic who are able to set up in remote locations, equipped with enough supplies to conduct up to five surgeries on two operating tables. This brings the kind of surgical skill and medical care that has been so successful in saving lives during this war right up close to the fighting.

This creative thinking was based on our understanding and experience with the types of wounds that our troops are sustaining in the Afghan war and the “Golden Hour” concept. During their time in Afghanistan, these units from Fort Carson had a 100% survival rate. They did so well in fact that the team members were awarded the following: 5 Bronze Stars, 18 Army Commendation Medals, 7 Army Achievement Medals, and 5 Combat Action Badges.

The Ability to Adapt

This is another example of something that American military forces are famous for around the world. Americans are not just the best-trained military forces in the world, but they have demonstrated many times, over the course of our history, a skill that few others have been able to match: adaptability. Yes, we are trained in a superior fashion, but war is not often a measured, predictable reality. Stuff happens! Things often happen in the midst of battle or in the course of a campaign that were unseen in the planning stages, but Americans have shown their ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances in every conflict since the Revolutionary War. This is another case of this adaptability skill.

Once again, this Army medical unit from Fort Carson has shown the intelligence, the adaptability, and the courage that makes American military forces second to none in the world. War is hell and freedom isn’t free. We do not want wars, but if they are thrust upon us, we are going to bring forces that are shaped by their superior training, but also by an American spirit of agile adaptability. The medical services in our armed forces have made it possible for more troops to survive the wounds of war than at any time in history. We can not thank them enough for their dedication to saving lives, for their skills and for the care that they bring to their duties. They are true life-savers. The best there are. Thanks to all who serve and who have served in the medical services of our armed forces.

Image: A Soldier pulls security while medics with 1-319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct a simulated casualty evacuation exercise on June 29, during a Joint Operational Access Exercise on Holland Drop Zone at Fort Bragg, N.C. Photo by Sgt. Jack Smith, CC BY 2.0

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