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November 5, 2009: The U.S. Army recently held a competition to determine who "The Best Medics In The Army" are. Thirteen teams (of two medics each) were in the final competition. The winners were two reservists (Staff Sergeant. Bjoern Pietrzyk and Sergeant Charles Smith). Pietrzyk is a fireman, while Smith is an emergency room radiology technician, both from Colorado. It was no surprise that two reservists would win this competition, for the reservists have brought with them a lot of experience, and knowledge, once activated and sent to the combat zone. These men and women are older than the average active duty soldier, and that often gave them years of experience in doing military duties similar to their civilian jobs.

The activation of thousands of reservists for service in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to the army adopting a large number of new tools and techniques, in addition to benefitting from all that experience. That's because many of the reservists work in emergency services (fire, police and ambulance) as civilians, and have better ideas about how to deal with medical emergencies. The combat in Iraq involves a lot of damaged vehicles (from roadside bombs). Car wrecks (from collisions) are a staple of life for civilian emergency workers. The military normally does not have to deal with as many wrecks, so the reservist emergency began to use their non-military tools and techniques. For example, emergency workers have a heavy duty cutter they use to quickly slice through seat belts of accident victims. These items cost about $25, and the troops are buying them with their own money. Firemen have also made the infantry aware of the specialized tools used for "breaking and entering" during fires. These various items, which look like medieval pole arms, have been adopted by many infantry units for raids, or just smashing their way through doors and wreckage while street fighting.

Reservist medical personnel have also brought with them lots of techniques the military medics and doctors did not have in their playbook, or tool kit. One of the more unusual tools was a tuning fork, which can be used very accurately to find out if a bone is broken. The reservist medical technicians also have some new techniques for using standard equipment, like bandages, medical instruments and stretchers.

All this has improved American battlefield medicine for generations to come. Not just the new techniques, but the realization that civilian emergency medicine is always very active, always "at war", and thus always innovating and evolving. Even before 2003, there were some attempts by military medical practitioners to pick up skills from the civilian side of emergency care. Now, because of the Iraq experience, it's clear to all that to ignore civilian emergency medicine in the future is a big mistake.

 


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