Practice makes perfect, training that saves lives

8 Apr 2011 | Sgt. Marcy Sanchez

The Combat Lifesaver Course instructed at the Advisor Training Cell, I Marine Expeditionary Force, revamped its syllabus to ensure retention and proficiency of techniques used to tend injuries in combat.

The course now includes twice as many hours on practical application than those spent in the classroom for Marines.

 “We put the emphasis on the hands-on portion through repetition,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Patricio Lanas, the medical course director for the Advisor Training Cell, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “This way they see it and learn it in the classroom, and then they do it.”

The Marine Corps only requires Marines to have 25 hours of combat lifesaver instruction prior to deployment, said Lanas. The course taught at the ATC is 48 hours long - 16 hours of classroom instruction and 32 hours of practical application.

“There was a lot of confusion before,” Lanas said. “They were missing a lot of that critical skill-set, because they didn’t have enough hours to go over it.”

The ATC staff took a four-day course and added a day of practical application to the syllabus.

“Most Marines are kinesthetic learners,” said 1st Lt. Travis H. Templeton, an advisor team commander with 2/4’s ETT. “Anything we do hands on is going to benefit us more than anything we learn in the classroom.”

Marines tested out of various scenarios such as hemorrhages, airway wounds, shock, abdominal injuries, burns, splints, head injuries, hypothermia, combat stress and patient movement.

“They have tourniquets on them, and we’ll say ‘squirt, squirt, squirt on the left arm,’ and they’ll have to put on the tourniquet either on themselves or their buddy,” Lanas said. “They don’t know when it’s coming or what body part it’s on.”

Other practical application exercises included loading and off-loading simulated casualties using motor transportation vehicles. The exercise promoted communication amongst one another to accomplish their task in a timely manner.

“The instructors found a very good balance between instruction in the classroom and practical application,” Templeton said. “They are trying to build muscle memory by repetition of action through casualty assessment training.”

Lanas said the knowledge and practical application equips Marines with confidence in their abilities to treat a patient.

Not only has the amount of practical application helped the Marines retain the training; it has also assisted in a higher passing percentage of the course.

Lanas said the passing percentage was in the high 80’s but after adding an extra day of practical application and random scenarios the average percentage rose to the 90’s.  

The course concluded with a final written test and a 10-kilometer hike through Camp Del Mar followed by a run through the obstacle course. The Marines immediately tended to simulated casualties without any assistance from instructors.

Staff from the ATC played the part of the simulated casualties who were decked out in make-up and special effects devices that gave the appearance of various life-like wounds.

The embedded training team will embed into Afghan National Army units throughout their deployment in order to advise the units.

“Given the nature of our mission it’s essential that Marines in our teams receive combat lifesaving skills,” said Templeton, 25 from Brooksville, Maine. “They will be able to treat not only other members of the team but also our host nation forces.”

“You’re not going to find another course like this,” Lanas said.