So You Say You Wanna Save Lives?

Felicia Whatley

A 40-hour Combat Lifesaver course taught by Army personnel is a course everyone can learn a lot from, if not just from reading my piece, but from the inspiration that drives someone to decide to become an Ambulance Emergency Medical Technician and develop the skills to save another person’s life.

The Army Combat Lifesaver Course trains soldiers how to treat a casualty in a battlefield environment. 90% of all combat deaths occur on the battlefield before casualties reach a medical facility. CLS teaches a soldier how to deal with a blocked airway, bleeding from an extremity, amputation of an extremity, hypovolemic shock, or an open chest wound.

The skills learned in this class save lives. It has been estimated that proper use of self aid, buddy aid, and combat lifesaver skills can reduce battlefield deaths by 15%.

“Every soldier, including the officers, is never too busy to help someone regardless of rank. Everybody should take this class,” said paramedic and Combat Lifesaver instructor Staff Sgt. Joe J. Rebello.

Tactical combat casualty care is divided into three phases: care under fire, tactical field care, and combat casualty evacuation care.

Soldiers that are trained in combat, functioning as a combat lifesaver is their secondary mission., while combat duties remain the primary mission. Their first priority while under fire is to return fire and kill the enemy. Care to injured soldiers is only given by Combat Lifesavers when doing so does not endanger their primary mission.

In performing care under fire, a soldier is trained to suppress the enemy fire, use cover or concealment, keep the injured party from sustaining additional wounds, and give reassurance. Care under fire is done in an environment where the soldier is under hostile fire and is very limited to the care he or she can provide.

“There aren’t enough combat medics on the battlefield. Immediate lifesaving skills taught to soldiers can save lives when there are more combat lifesavers out there,” said Rebello. “I hope the soldiers take from the course a big sense of accomplishment. They have learned more in 40 hours than an EMT learns in four months. Additionally, they learn chest decompression and IVs which is beyond the scope of a basic EMT’s practice.”

The ABC’s are important in taking care of the soldier: airway, breathing and circulation. CLS teaches the importance to assessing and maintaining the airway. A head-tilt or chin-lift method is used to open the airway. The jaw thrust method is used if it is suspected that the patient has suffered a spinal injury.

“CLS teaches real world traumatic training for things that do happen. You might be the only one out there and not close to a hospital. The patient may need an extra level of care but you are it until they can get sent to a medical facility. I teach this class at a moderate level of stress so that it is not too traumatic when they deal with the real thing,” said Rebello. “In wartime, I would put my money on a CLS verses an EMT to save me.”

The leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield is bleeding from an extremity. Hemorrhaging from an extremity can usually be controlled by a CLS by applying a dressing and bandage, manual pressure, elevating the injured limb and applying a pressure dressing. Who knows – God forbid -whether or not this skill may be applicable on your life, as well? Prepare for accidents.

“I enjoy teaching this class because it is great showing something I know to someone else,” Rebello continued. “Seeing the students complete the course and get qualified is wonderful especially when they come back a year or so later to recertify. I can really see the difference in their skills.”