42nd MDG prepares Airmen to save lives on battlefield

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brannen Parrish
  • Air University Public Affairs
The words "exsanguination" and "tension pneumothorax" rarely surface during average conversation, but personnel who deploy from Maxwell Air Force Base must know how to respond to these medical conditions prior to departure.

The 42nd Medical Group began providing Combat Lifesaving Skills training to Maxwell and Gunter Airmen in 2005. The three-day course provides Airmen with 40 hours of lectures and demonstrations, followed by practical application and testing.

"Hopefully, they will never have to use this training," said Tech. Sgt. Bradley Evans, the NCOIC of Yellow Team Family Practice, 42nd Medical Group. "The earlier you get medical intervention, the higher your probability of survival."

Exsanguination, more commonly referred to as "bleeding out" or bleeding to death, accounts for about 90 percent of preventable battlefield deaths. While the majority of combat deaths occur on the battlefield before the victim reaches a treatment facility, some relatively simple procedures, such as proper application of a tourniquet, can save lives.

Students receiving CLS instruction learn the proper means of applying tourniquets in order to stop bleeding. Airmen also learn how to insert a catheter and start an intravenous drip to help patients who have suffered significant blood loss.

During training, each student selects a buddy, preps the area and sets up an IV drip on his or her partner. Many students are a bit apprehensive about sticking one another with a needle, but the training prepares them to perform the procedure.

"Day one to day three is night and day," Sergeant Evans said. "Some students are afraid of blood and most have a fear of causing pain to another person, it isn't a natural inclination, but by the third day they can do it."

Intravenous fluids hydrate the body and help it reproduce red blood cells thus increasing the odds that the wounded can make it to a treatment facility.

"Self-aid and buddy care is important, but if you are wounded and I can get an IV in you, then I've started you on the road to recovery," said Lt. Col. Pamela Bement, chief nurse, 42nd Medical Group. "Once we get a patient to a medical treatment facility the chances of survival increase by 90 percent. These procedures give the wounded a chance to make it to the treatment facility."

As Air Force personnel become more involved in operations where medics might not be readily available, it is necessary for Airmen to enter the combat theatre prepared to perform some lifesaving procedures.

Tension pneumothorax, a condition often caused when a projectile such as a round or bullet pierces the lung causing a drop in air pressure within the organ, results in a collapsed lung. The victim's lung begins to move, putting pressure on the heart, inhibiting breathing and causing significant pain.

Students learn how to recognize the signs of a tension pneumothorax and decompress the lung with a procedure called a decompression pneumothorax. The procedure equalizes the pressure within the lung, easing breathing and alleviating some pain.

"If you have a collapsed lung, and I can do a needle decompression, then I can help you breathe and control your pain," Colonel Bement said.

The 42nd Medical Group conducts one CLS training course per month. Classes consist of about 15 Airmen. Master Sgt. Kevin Merchant, a contracting specialist with the 42nd Air Base Wing, has completed the course twice in preparation for deployments.

"I still don't like doing the IVs, but I know what to expect because I've done it," he said.