Alaska Interior Trauma Conference learns from combat medics

Local healthcare providers learn about trauma care tactics from combat medics.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 5:41 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Medical professionals from Interior Alaska visited Fort Wainwright to learn how they can benefit from adopting trauma care strategies used by Army combat medics.

From across the interior, medical staff gathered for the Alaska Interior Trauma Conference. Some of the medical professionals in attendance visited the Medical Simulation Training Center on Ft. Wainwright, also called the MSTC. Attendees witnessed a demonstration of combat medical practices for providing trauma care on a battlefield.

The purpose of the demonstration was to give civilian care providers an understanding of how the military is able to retain the lives of soldiers inflicted with poly trauma injuries. “You don’t get explosions or gun shot wounds all the time but I would say that motor vehicle accidents are probably the closest they get to these poly trauma situations,” said Jonathan Choto-Helming, the MSTC site director.

Unlike trauma care in the civilian world, combat medics often face mass casualty, poly trauma situations in the field. Some medical professionals are turning to methods used by the military as emergency rooms and EMTs face an increase in tragedies such as mass shootings. “The whole process for treatment is different in the civilian mindset,” said Choto-Helming. “So, we focus in the army on massive hemorrhage first, securing the airway, checking for respirations and any chest wounds.”

During the demonstration, the speed of care and assessment of needs were highlighted. But also the lack of available medical tools or technology.

A large part of the difference in care however starts during the combat medics training. “The EMT portion of our advanced individual training that we get when we first initially join the army, is really just the baseline,” said Staff Sgt. Caleb Cousins, a combat medic stationed at Ft. Wainwright.

“The next portion is our combat focused I guess parts and that’s what the bread and butter of our job is.” The first four weeks of combat medic training is the same as EMT training, but they have an additional 12 weeks of specialized combat medic training. During this time, the medics learn not only how to prevent casualties, but protect themselves and their patients while under fire. This is also a practice that could be used by civilian EMTs that respond to a mass shooting. According to the staff at the MSTC, some law enforcement S.W.A.T. teams are already integrating those methods.

The different methods and procedures utilized by combat medics in the military are also very different from techniques used by civilian medical professionals because in the civilian world, they have to be aware of so many other things too, medical issues, disease issues, things of that nature,” said Choto-Helming.

In the military, diseases and medical issues are not a priority for the combat medics because most of those concerns disqualify soldiers from enlisting. However the knowledge and methods used to navigate those issues are something that combat medics can learn from civilian care providers as they do run into disease while treating civilian casualties.

“When I was down range on my first deployment, we were treating an Iraqi and he had tuberculosis,” Choto-Helming said. Exposure to such illness while deployed can be catastrophic for a medic because their access to healthcare is more limited and for Choto-Helming, a two week isolation was required to prevent the spread of pathogens.

As to how and what will be adopted from military trauma care to civilian trauma care remains to be seen, but as both areas of medicine evolve it is likely that they will both provide each other with useful knowledge and skills.