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VICENZA, Italy — One battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team has sent nearly four dozen of its soldiers through Emergency Medical Technician classes in an effort to cut down on battlefield casualties during its upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

The move is part of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment’s effort to provide extra medical training to all of its troops, said Lt. Col. Mike Fenzel, the battalion commander.

The Army has made great strides in taking care of soldiers wounded in battle, Fenzel said, citing statistics that say more than 90 percent of those wounded in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan survive.

But that still leaves a little room for improvement. “And that’s what I’m addressing at the battalion level,” he said. “I think other battalions around the Army are doing it in their own way.”

One goal is to get all the soldiers in the battalion to take a first-responder course: enabling them to perform simple functions to try to keep the wounded alive until other help arrives.

That’s an Armywide initiative, but First Rock soldiers are going further. Each soldier in the battalion also has to pass a written test, a hands-on demonstration and use their skills in simulated trauma. If they don’t succeed, they have to go through the whole process again. Fenzel said more than 200 soldiers have passed the testing and he hopes to get the entire battalion up to speed by the time the unit deploys.

“If not, we’ll continue to train down there,” he said.

Fourteen of the 67 soldiers going through the process last week didn’t pass and will have to start over.

The battalion has also established a secondary layer of specialized training, sending 47 troops through the a pair of EMT classes at the base education center. Central Texas College, which trains about 600 students a year during its normal 10-week classes, designed two three-week classes for the soldiers, so each squad in the battalion should have a soldier ready to test for B-level EMT certification.

“You can just look at the guys and see a lot more confidence,” Dr. (Capt.) Matt Hing, the battalion surgeon, said at a “graduation” ceremony on Friday. “They’ve come so far.”

Hing, a flight surgeon, is the battalion’s top medical authority. Physician assistants and medics underneath him comprise the battalion’s top layer of medical treatment. The unit’s medics are also undergoing extra training and mentoring before the deployment but medics can’t be everywhere. Thus the need for the EMTs.

But the new EMTs can only accomplish so much on their own. After all, says Dr. Felipe Gonzalez, the college’s program director, they’ve only really been exposed to the material for three weeks. During that time, though, the class was basically their only duty assignment.

“It was a lot of information to absorb in the timeframe,” said Pfc. Anthony Nicholson. “But the instructors presented it pretty well.”

Nicholson said he expected his new knowledge and skills might prove useful years down the road: “This is something we can put to practical use.”

Fenzel said he expects it to be put to use on the battalion’s next deployment.

“We already know we’re going to war,” he said. “We’re going to have injured soldiers. Their lives are going to be in the balance. We’re hoping this tilts that.”

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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