FAYETTEVILLE, N. C. — On average, soldiers on Fort Bragg slaughter 300 goats a month for medical trauma training meant to help save lives in battle.
Animal activists say the animals are shot, stabbed, bludgeoned and blown up to simulate the types of injuries soldiers face.
For three decades, the activists have tried to end the practice. Their efforts appear to have finally paid off.
The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law this month, requires the Department of Defense to provide Congress with a strategy and detailed timeline by March for the replacement of animals for medical training.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which applauds the move, said Fort Bragg training accounts for about a third of the animal deaths caused by the military each year.
Government documents show that officials at Fort Bragg's Army Special Operations Command solicited up to 3,600 goats for use in training last year.
The documents show that the command planned to use about 300 goats a month.
Officials with the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and Army Special Operations Command confirmed that they use animals for training but said they could not comment further.
The officials said they have not been given specific guidance on the requirements outlined by the authorization act.
PETA and other groups have protested the use of live animals in military training, advocating for simulation and other modern, nonanimal methods, said Justin Goodman, director of the group's Laboratory Investigations Department.
In the 1980s, advocates were able to stop the use of dogs and cats in the training, Goodman said, but the language in the authorization act represents the first time Congress has required the military to formalize its efforts to end all animal use.
Goodman said 10,000 animals are killed each year during trauma training conducted by the military and private military contractors.
Up to a third of those animal deaths are attributed to training on or around Fort Bragg, and several thousand more are attributed to civilian contractors who do work for various military groups.
Dr. John Pippin, a Dallas cardiologist who advocates on behalf of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said it is important to realize that this isn't a choice between saving a soldier and saving a goat.
"The use of goats and pigs for this type of training, if it was ever the best method, is not the best now," he said. "Anyone who tells you it's choosing between a goat and a soldier is devoid of a valid argument. That's a cop-out. It's not the only way or the best way."
The committee helped to craft a bill last year that would force the Department of Defense to end the practice of using live animals in trauma training within five years.
That bill did not pass the U.S. House but served as the basis for the language inserted into the authorization act, officials said.
Pippin said the use of live animals in medical training was commonplace when he went through medical school in the late 1970s.
But even then, he said, many questioned the practice.
"We just knew, intuitively, that this was not relevant," he said.
Now, only about five medical schools out of nearly 180 in the United States and Canada use live animals as part of their curriculum, Pippin said.
Pippin and Goodman advocate for the use of various simulators, including "cut suits" that they say are better suited for the trauma training.
Some simulators look like humans, they said, and feature lifelike skin, anatomically correct organs, breakable bones and realistic blood flow.
Others can be worn by humans while still providing many of the realistic features.
"The anatomy and physiology of a goat and a pig are dramatically different from humans," Goodman said. "The simulators are better in all regards."
Goodman and Pippin said many military schools moved to simulators long ago, including the Rascon School of Combat Medicine at Fort Campbell, Ky., the Air Force Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills and the Navy Trauma Training Center.
PETA officials said Camp Lejeune, at one point, also stopped using live animals in training.
Lejeune officials did not respond to inquiries, but government documents show that officials on the Marine base do use live animals for trauma training, stating on bid paperwork that the live tissue training "has proven to save lives and lessen the severity of injury in combat."
Goodman said PETA would ask the Marine Corps to cease the use of animals in training.
Part of the problem, Goodman said, is that the training curriculum within the military is decentralized, with no overarching structure.
The use of live animals occurs on at least 20 bases across the country, he said.
But, he said, it's largely nonexistent in other parts of the world.
Twenty-two of the 28 countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have banned the use of live animals in training, Goodman said.
And news reports indicate that German officials have barred U.S. soldiers stationed in that country from training involving live animals in the past.
Once the military's ban on using live animals is in place, Goodman said, it will bring the U.S. up to the standards set by those countries, while improving the training itself.
"It's a win-win," he said.
Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3567.
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