There is a new controversy over the training of Army personnel that involes goats. The personnel being trained are medics for the 10th Special Forces Group. As many as 150 goats will be anesthetized and then shot, so as to permit the trainees to practice treating gunshot wounds in conditions similar to those they will face on the battlefield. The Humane Society of the United States, which has opposed legislation to ease environmental restrictions on the Department of Defense that have been blamed for hampering training, opposes this type of training. A letter has been sent to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, signed by Dr. Martin Stevens, Vice President of Animal Research Issues for HSUS. The organization has also put out a press release and has urged its members to contact the Defense Department.
Special Forces medical personnel are some of the best-trained trauma experts in the world. The training course taken is the longest (twelve months) of those given to troops training to become a Green Beret, and includes time working in inner-city emergency rooms. That said, combat casualties dont occur in emergency rooms. Hence the use of goats, which allows for medics and trainees to practice first aid in the kind of situations likely to occur in Afghanistan, Iraq, and on other battlefields in the future which will not occur in or near well-equipped emergency rooms. Realistic training is important when the life of a soldier is in the balance, and the training officers of Special Operations Command and the Department of Defense probably have the best idea as to what will be needed to ensure accurate training.
The Army has used animals for testing throughout its history. Colonel Julian Hatcher derived his theories on handgun stopping power from the Thompson-LeGarde study, which involved shooting steers (castrated bulls). The Navy had a similar program involving dogs, but that was cancelled in 1983 on orders from then-Secretary of Defense Weinberger. The military shifted from dogs to goats and pigs the next year. Goats, however, are the preferred option for this training. Pigs are more expensive (they weigh more, and the military has to compete with food production), and they have a layer of fat and blubber not present in combat troops.
It should be emphasized that the military follows all provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, and takes steps to minimize the suffering of the animals involved in the training as well as the number of animals used (DOD claims a reduction of 1,452 goats from FY 1994 to FY 2001). This is NOT a case of injuring animals for kicks the training provided is intended to give medics the best possible chance of saving the lives of wounded soldiers. There are some systems that are in development and in service that have the cut down on the number of animals needed. The Army has been using mannequins for some training. But for field training, goats and other animals are likely to remain in use as proven training methods, mostly because a mannequin or a virtual reality simulator cannot replicate some of the things a combat medic will have to deal with. Harold C. Hutchison (email@example.com)