Morale: Gunfire Therapy for Amputees


July 4, 2007: With the increased attention given to the psychological effects of combat, especially for those who are severely wounded, some interesting remedies have been discovered, or rediscovered. For example, many wounded combat troops feel a lot better when they are back at work. Not being home, or in some outpatient facility, but back with a combat unit. This is nothing new. During World War I, when large numbers of combat stress victims were first encountered, it was quickly discovered that, for many patients, the best long term cure was to get them back to "their regiment." Recently, American therapists found that what many wounded troops wanted most was to use their weapons again. This was particularly true with those who had lost limbs. Remember, we have a volunteer military now, and combat troops are there by choice, and many of them grew up using firearms.

Two years ago, a program was begun, using a firearms simulator, to enable wounded troops, especially amputees, to see if they could regain their weapons skills. They could, and felt a lot better because of it. Troops who had lost an arm found they could use a prosthesis, and still fire a rifle accurately. They used the Fire Arms Training System or FATS, for the weapons training and "shooting." FATS is a smaller version of the military's standard firearms training system; EST (Engagement Skills Trainer) 2000. This one consists of a movie theater size screen (but at ground level, not raised) with back projection target situations displayed as interactive movies. The troops use rifles, pistols and machine-guns that are actual weapons, but modified to fire "electronic bullets", and, via a thin cable, use a pneumatic system that provides recoil as well. There is a sound system to depict the sound of the weapons firing, as well as a computer controlled tracking of ammo fired, letting users know when they have to reload.

Because it is a simulator, it captures a precise record of exactly where the soldiers weapon is aimed, how well the soldier pulls the trigger, and how long it takes to find and fire at the next target. This enables instructors to much more rapidly detect problems troops are having, and correct them. Tests have shown that you can take people with no weapons experience, put them through four hours of EST 2000 training, and take them to a rifle range, and they will be able to fire accurately enough to exceed military requirements.

FATS has most of the essential elements of EST 2000, and with it, over 90 percent of the patients were able to regain their military "qualification" (being able to hit enough targets to indicate ability to use the weapon effectively in combat). Some were able to go hunting again.

The marines have also found that establishing a barracks for those recovering from wounds, but no longer in need of hospital care, was great for morale. The marines in the recovery barracks wore their uniforms, and did whatever tasks they were physically capable of.

Civilians usually don't really understand how important being part of a unit is, for a soldier or marine that has been in combat. It's more than a substitute family, it's, well, it's something that's hard to explain. But it's real.




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