WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. combat medics involved in the war in Iraq are better trained than their previous counterparts, which could be saving lives, military medicine experts said Monday.
"The quality of the medic on the battlefield is much improved over the previous combat medics," Col. David Rubinstein, medical center commander of the facility at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, said during a news briefing.
"The current combat medic is very capable of getting a soldier to a combat support hospital alive," Rubinstein said. "Once a casualty on the battlefield reaches a combat support hospital (his or her) likelihood of surviving is very, very great," he noted.
"Clearly these guys going in now are not the same medics we had back in 1991," Jaime Cavazos, a spokesman for Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where medics receive their initial training, told United Press International.
"They've gotten more training in (emergency medical technician and paramedic programs) and are more highly skilled and trained," Cavazos said.
The medics "play a tremendously key role" in ensuring soldiers survive combat injuries, said Lt. Col. Craig Bottoni, a doctor and chief of sports medicine at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.
The medic's ability to act quickly could mean the difference between life and death, Bottoni, who helped train medics going into the first Gulf War, told UPI. The first hour after a combat injury is called the "golden hour" because treating and stabilizing the patient during this time is considered key to survival.
"If you delay treatment, you will increase the risk of losing life," Bottoni said.
The medics' superior training probably made a difference in the outcome of the incident Saturday, in which a U.S. soldier killed one of his fellow servicemen and injured 15 others at a military camp near the Iraqi border.
"The medics were right there and probably saved lives," Bottoni said.
One reason for this is medic training programs now place more emphasis on trauma management, said Maj. George Appenzeller, deputy chief of the department of combat medic training at Fort Sam Houston.
An analysis of combat injuries found many soldiers bled to death from gunshot wounds to the arms and legs, so the training program now "spends a lot of time training these medics to prevent that," Appenzeller told UPI. They also receive thorough training in dealing with wounds to the chest and belly.
The training program has "changed tremendously since the first Gulf war," Appenzeller said. It has been expanded from 10 weeks to 16 weeks and medics now are required to be certified as emergency medical technicians.
In addition, "an entire simulation lab" has been developed at Fort Sam Houston, he continued. This consists of a mannequin body that in conjunction with a computer simulates breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure and other physiological conditions of the body. "It's as close to responding like a person would as you can get," he said.
The instructors can program the mannequin to mimic certain injuries, which trainees then have to ascertain and treat. One injury is designed to mimic a gunshot wound.
The trainee must treat the wound appropriately or the mannequin will "die," Appenzeller said.
"The students take to it, and I think it really makes a big difference," he said. "I'm convinced it's going to save a lot of lives."