Photo Information

The 24 graduates of the first Combat Medic Assistant course pose with their instructors at the Joint Security Academy Southwest aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, July 28. The course is designed to teach Afghan National Security Forces advanced first aid skills beyond what they are taught in basic training.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Bryan Nygaard

Corpsmen teach Afghan soldiers skills to save lives in combat

7 Aug 2011 | Cpl. Bryan Nygaard

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — “Get your head down! Get your head down! What are you doing? You’re getting shot at! Get your head down!”

These were the words of Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Shoener, a hospital corpsman and instructor at the Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest, as he instructed 24 Afghan students to stay low while applying tourniquets to one another. This unique instruction took place during the final exercise of the Combat Medic Assistant Course aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, July 27.

The new course, which took nearly four months to develop, is designed to give intermediate medical skills to Afghan National Security Forces.

Within the U.S. armed forces, medical training is divided into three tiers. Tier one consists of the elementary first aid skills taught to all service members during basic training. Tier two consists of advanced first aid and life saving procedures, while tier three is training specific to corpsmen and medics.

The Combat Medic Assistant Course at JSAS mirrors the tier two training U.S. personnel receive. The course is designed to augment the skills of a medic on the battlefield and provide an alternative source of care in case the medic becomes injured or there are an excessive number of casualties.

For two weeks, Shoener, along with Petty Officer 1st Class Terry Gray and Petty Officer 3rd Class Lucien Vienot, all Navy corpsmen and JSAS instructors, taught the Afghan soldiers the same tier two lifesaving skills they would normally teach to Marines.

Each day included physical training, two hours of literacy classes, classroom lectures and practical application. The students were taught how to control life-threatening bleeding, restore breathing, and how to treat burns, shock and head injuries.

“The main thing is to stop massive hemorrhaging,” said Shoener, a native of North Kingston, R.I. “That’s the number one cause of preventable death on the battlefield. That’s the one thing we drive home the most.”

During the different classroom lectures and practical application exercises, the corpsmen would frequently stop what they were doing and yell, “TOURNIQUET!” and then which limb to put it on. They would then walk up to each student and make sure the tourniquet was applied properly.

“Tourniquet applications – find the right spot and do it quickly. We got most of them down to doing it between ten and fifteen seconds.”

During the final exercise, the students were put through a simulated patrol in which they marched three miles on the western side of Camp Leatherneck. The corpsmen put them through numerous simulated drills in which they were to take cover from enemy fire and apply a tourniquet to the student to their right or left.

At the midway point of the patrol, the corpsmen had constructed a mass casualty scenario where three other JSAS instructors were portraying serious casualties. Several of the students set up security around the area as others rushed on the scene to provide first aid to the simulated casualties. Afterward, the corpsmen critiqued them on what they did wrong and right.

After the mass casualty scenario was over, the students marched back carrying one of the simulated casualties on a stretcher. The corpsmen continued to put them through simulated attack drills with more simulated casualties until they arrived back at JSAS.

“It makes them realize what it’s going to be like when they’re out on that patrol for eight hours one day and they take contact when they’re seven hours into it and they’re drained and they’re mentally fatigued,” said Shoener. “That’s when the stress hits, so they can realize that it’s a lot harder to operate at those levels than when you’re just sitting in a classroom. [We’re] just trying to give them that simulated combat stress and physical fatigue and mental fatigue so they can operate at any level.”

All of the students showed proficiency in applying advanced first aid to simulated casualties. More importantly, they understood why the techniques they learned could help save the lives of their fellow soldiers.

“Anybody can be taught to just put a tourniquet on, to just put a bandage on,” said Gray, a native of New Albany, Ind. “What we’re trying to do is give them the baseline knowledge. Understand how the body works and why these injuries are life threatening. If they understand them, they can not only treat them but teach others to treat them as well.

“In the lectures, they had a lot of questions. They’re hungry for knowledge. I’ve spent the past two weeks tapping my brain of everything I know. I’ve challenged them and they’ve challenged me.”
Several of the students had received basic first aid before enrolling in the class, but none of them possessed the advanced skills the corpsmen were able to pass on to them.

“Burn injuries are very important to us,” said Mohamed Rustam, a student in the course. “I’ve seen soldiers with burns before, but I was not able to treat them. I now know how to treat them.”

Rustam says he is very grateful for the training he has received from the corpsmen.

“They’re great, we learned a lot from them,” exclaimed Rustam. “The great thing about them is that they always had a good attitude and were very patient with us even when we kept making mistakes. This helped us to learn many things.”

After their graduation ceremony, July 28, each student was given a comprehensive study guide so that they could remain proficient in their newly acquired skills and pass them on to others at their respective units.

JSAS is currently in the process of trying to get the course adopted by all Afghan training commands in Afghanistan.