Trauma registry aims to improve troops’
By Scott Peterson; April 2004
FALLUJAH, IRAQ - For military
medics, the lesson that matters most from Lt. Jeff Copeland's U.S. Marine convoy
is not that it was ambushed three times by Iraqi insurgents on a single run. The
key point for them: How and where were the two U.S. casualties
A newly established U.S. Navy Combat Trauma Registry is
charting casualty patterns in hopes of improving troop protection.
Already, specific dangers for U.S. forces - roadside bombs and urban warfare -
are prompting swift innovations.
The military, for example, has
rush-ordered thousands of Kevlar shoulder guards and blastproof sunglasses. The
reason? Ask Copeland, a U.S. Navy combat medic officer from Gainesville, Fla.,
whose first taste of combat came two weeks ago. Two of his marines took shoulder
injuries from bullets and shrapnel.
"He's done, he's gone home - he
can't shoot," Copeland said of one case. New Kevlar shoulder guards might have
protected the marine and kept him on the battlefront.
Fallujah, seven miles east of the city, new forms arrived this week that will
allow surgeons to log details of injuries and answer questions about their
cause, and armor used.
Using a prototype form until now, U.S. Navy
medical corpsmen at the Bravo Surgical Company here have detailed more than 190
The new forms can be filled out on computer; some
medical officers nearer the front line will hold voice recorders.
we have is this huge database from Vietnam that ... needs updating," said Navy
Capt. Eric McDonald, chief surgeon for the 1st Marine Expeditionary
"We're trying to answer those questions - which glasses
are better, which armor, which vehicle is better - in a scientific
There has been close cooperation between the Army and the Navy,
which traditionally provides medical support for the marines.
watch Roman Legion movies, that is where we are getting to," said Navy Capt.
John Siefert, a doctor from San Diego, Calif., referring to Kevlar shoulder
guards and lower skirts on flak vests.
Trauma centers in U.S.
hospitals today are a direct outgrowth of Army medics coping with combat trauma
in Vietnam. Improvements since that era - including forward surgical teams much
closer to front-line action - have trimmed front-line death rates.
the 1991 Gulf War, ceramic armor plates were used only by Special Forces; today
they are standard issue.
Parallel to the budding Navy effort, the Army
has been pursuing the first stages of its own trauma registry. Key innovations
in Iraq, in fact, began over the winter, when the Army's 82nd Airborne
controlled this area.
It was Lt. Col. Kelly Bal, an orthopedic surgeon
with the Army's 82nd Airborne, who first detected the pattern of wounds to
Bal rigged a Kevlar groin protector from a typical
armored vest to fit around the upper arm, McDonald said. A prototype saved a
soldier. The Army quickly bought 6,000, some 2,000 of which are now being used
by Marines. The Marines also have ordered 25,000 more shoulder
A similar story surrounds the wide use Wiley--X sunglasses
with ballistic lenses are padded frames, and toughened goggles direct
result of blast wounds to the eye from IEDs.
"Ideally, we would travel
in hermetically sealed bubbles ... but we don't drape ourselves in this stuff.
Everything you add is a benefit, and has a cost," McDonald said Shoulder
protectors may hamper a marksman and add a heat burden. Some ballistic glasses
tend to fog in heat.
Experts are also working on a better ear-plug
that permits frequencies like voices while protecting against the noise of a
near by grenade blast. Surgeons here also expect more coverage of neck and lower
"The future is mining that database," said McDonald,
"to find the places where benefits fits outweigh risks."