By KATE WILTROUT, The Virginian-Pilot
© April 6, 2007 | Last updated 8:41 PM Apr. 5
They already know how to save lives: Dress the wound. Apply a tourniquet. Put broken bones in a splint. But Navy corpsmen deploying to Iraq with Marine units also must rely on basic survival skills: When bullets are flying, for example, crawl to the patient - and keep your head down.
Such lessons come from teachers experienced in battlefield medicine, culled from their own memories of what they wish they'd known.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Otis Seamon, one of the instructors in the week long casualty care course at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, spent eight months in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Thursday morning, half the class of 17 students played victims of a rocket attack. The other half, dressed in full battle gear, rushed in to treat them.
On a grassy shoreline between Scott's Creek and the hospital's baseball field/helicopter landing pad, Seamon walked among fake carnage, oblivious to the imaginary insurgents, shoving down medics who put themselves in the line of fire.
"If you don't pay attention to what's going on, you can become the casualty," Seamon said.
"Then their lifeline is gone, because the corpsman was stupid."
Victims were decorated with fake blood and prosthetic injuries. One had a stump for a hand; another had "glass" sticking out of his arm and "bone" protruding from his leg.
Developed at the Portsmouth facility for corpsmen across the Navy preparing to deploy, the course was first offered in 2005. This is the fifth class.
Instructors told corpsmen to evaluate battlefield casualties with basic clues: "They're not talking to you, they're dead," said Cmdr. Tom Craig. "Move on."
After a few minutes, the class switched roles.
"The best weapon you've got is your brain!" Craig yelled.
A tip when dealing with gunshot wounds or blast injuries on the battlefield: Reverse the ABC s of emergency care - airway, breathing, circulation - and address circulation first. Stop the bleeding. If an artery near the core of the body has been hit, a patient can die from blood loss in under four minutes.
A former corpsman, Craig is an emergency room physician who spent seven months with a surgical shock trauma platoon at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, in 2005.
Springing to action, Petty Officer 3rd Class Shawna Mock couldn't decide whether to tote an extra bag of supplies for the drill.
"You never have enough materials," Craig advised. "Adapt! Overcome! Improvise!"
Doctors, nurses and paramedics sometimes think technical instruments are the key to saving lives, Craig said.
"Truth be told, you don't need any of it," he said, pulling a standard uniform belt out from around his waist. "A Marine's belt is one of the best tourniquets you have," he said. Cinch it around a patient, and use it to drag a patient.
The simplest equipment tends to be indispensable in the field, Craig said: cloth bandages, tourniquets to stanch bleeding, even duct tape (you can strap an arm to the body or tape a Marine's feet together to drag him to safety).
Craig and Seamon said that the most important thing a corpsman carries onto the battlefield - self-assurance - can't be packed into a medical kit.
Seamon said the one thing he hopes for this week is "to get them to trust themselves, trust their gear and trust their training."