Attrition: How Bleeding Goats Saves Wounded Soldiers


June 6, 2010: In the last seven years, the U.S. Army has made wider use of animals to train medics how to treat life-threatening battlefield wounds. The U.S. Army Special Forces has long used this practice, because their medics undertook a much longer (one year) training course, and were trained to use more complex procedures (including minor surgery). But in the last decade, regular army and marine medics have been trained to employ more complex procedures, and are also using anesthetized animals (goat and pigs) to practice emergency procedures on battlefield wounds, injuries that will soon turn fatal if not treated very quickly and accurately.

The U.S. Army now has a public relations problem because they have established an advanced training program for combat medics in Germany (where some U.S. military bases remain). This will involving using unconscious goats to treat critical wounds. Much training for troops headed for Afghanistan is now being done in Germany, rather than sending troops all the way back to the U.S. for it. Moreover, other NATO nations want access to some American training programs for their own troops headed for Afghanistan. German animal rights activists are protesting, even though the U.S. training program meets German regulations for such procedures.

Without this kind of training, soldier die from wounds that medics could deal with, but are unable to handle the first time around. So the animal training is used, to confirm that medics can do it, and to provide more training to those who can't (and wash out those who are never able to cope.) The procedures include inserting breathing tubes into the trachea, needles into lungs (to re-inflate them), and using various techniques to stop the bleeding from major arteries. All of these conditions, if not dealt with quickly and effectively, will kill, very soon.

Such animal based training has long been used so that medical personnel could learn to perform certain procedures on humans. During World War II, when there were still a lot of horses used by armies, dead, or sick, horses were used for this training. The Japanese, however, sometimes used prisoners. Everyone agrees that this is a no-no, but animal rights activists have, as such activism does, escalated to the point where demands are made that animals get the same rights as humans (including legal representation in court). But the rule that it's "better for an animal to die in training, rather than a soldier in combat," still holds. For the moment.

Goats are the preferred animal for this training, mainly because they are cheaper than pigs. During the 1990s, some 1500 goats were used for medical training. Many more goats have been used in the last decade, as the demand for well trained combat medics has escalated.





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