Artillery: August 18, 2004


The war on terror has left 6,200 troops wounded from combat operations so far. About 90 percent of the casualties are from Iraq operations. There have been about a thousand dead. Two things are unusual about that. First, its a very low casualty rate for the number of troops involved. Americans have been in Afghanistan since late 2001, and Iraq since early 2003. There are currently 160,000 troops in combat zones. 

One major development, which is not obvious to most civilians, because they get most of their information from the mass media, which tends to report each war as if it were the first one to ever be fought, is the much lower casualty rate. Compared to similar combat in Vietnam, the Iraq and Afghanistan casualties are 80 percent lower. The second unusual aspect of this is the low number of dead. For the past sixty years (since the development of antibiotics), the dead have usually accounted for 20-25 percent of all casualties. But now its 14 percent. Better, and speedier, medical care is the reason way, along with better protective gear. But another, little reported reason, is the increased, and more realistic, medical training given to all troops. Severe wounds become fatal wounds very quickly if there is not prompt (as in minutes) medical care provided. So all troops likely to be in a combat zone are given special instruction on emergency medical care. For Special Forces support troops, there is an even more intense course, because the Special Forces units often operate farther away from American medical helicopter bases and have to do more to wounded troops, and do it faster, because of the longer wait for helicopter evacuation.

In the last few decades, much medical research has gone into "emergency medicine" and the development of new tools and techniques to save badly injured people. The military has played a large role in this, either with research or financial support. The payoff has been seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. 


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