Special Forces educate South Korean counterparts
March 2, 2008
SPECIAL WARFARE TRAINING GROUP, South Korea — When Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Randy Kerlee says he’ll give you realistic, hands-on training to save lives, he’s not joking.
Soldiers who attend his 40-hour tactical combat casualty care course find themselves with lubed breathing tubes shoved up into their noses, intravenous needles in their arms, and — as frightening as it may sound to the uninitiated — they actually give each other external jugular IVs.
Kerlee, the senior medic with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Lewis, Wash., brought a modified form of the class here last week to teach South Korean special forces how to save lives in combat.
U.S. soldiers with the 39th Special Forces Detachment work with South Korean special warfare troops daily on the peninsula. When the South Koreans expressed interest in the casualty training, members of the 39th contacted Fort Lewis and arranged for Kerlee’s training.
Kerlee, with two other Special Forces medics and one Special Operations medic, planned a four-day course with translation provided by Korean augmentees from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade at K-16 Air Base. A small group of U.S. soldiers from the unit also completed the training.
Kerlee minces few words when he describes the course: “I’ve found a way that saves lives and [the Army] should really consider making it the standard, not the exception,” he said after a full day of class at the Special Warfare Training Group compound on Wednesday.
After Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in the early 1990s, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command created the TC-3 course to standardize combat care. The result: a training session with more than 240 slides.
“I don’t believe in sitting in a classroom for two days watching PowerPoint slides,” Kerlee said.
As he worked his way from company medic to battalion medic, and now to the group level, he’s created his own version of the training.
He greatly reduced the number of slides he shows and introduced the hands-on training. For every 15 minutes of formal presentation, soldiers will spend 45 minutes practicing the techniques, Kerlee said.
On the last day of class, students don their full-body protective gear and run through a series of “trauma lanes,” with instructors giving them the “stress of moving … the stress of being yelled at.”
He said combat care concepts have morphed somewhat in recent years based on lessons learned in the war on terrorism. He also thinks the regular Army should adopt a more hands-on approach to its combat lifesaver course, even though they have incorporated some of the TC-3 training.
In training the South Koreans this week, Kerlee dropped the jugular IV and decided to run a stepped-down version of the trauma lanes. He didn’t, however, leave any of his intensity back at Fort Lewis.
When applying tourniquets, Kerlee was specific in just how tight they should be.
“If I can put my finger under there, I’m going to make everyone put their feet on that wall and do push-ups for a week,” he boomed.
And every hands-on event was timed, with Kerlee often counting down the seconds. He grilled them mercilessly as they worked through each stage of accessing combat casualties.
And, as he often has to do with soldiers, he had to convince the South Koreans that the old way they’re used to doesn’t work.
“Take everything you’ve learned previously and flush it down the toilet,” he said. “Everything has changed.”
One of those concepts is the difference between “care under fire” and “tactical field care.” In other words, if the troops are under “effective hostile fire” the goal is to continue the fight and try to keep the casualty from sustaining further wounds. The only medical care to be administered is to “stop any life-threatening external hemorrhage with a tourniquet,” he said.
When troops are no longer being hit with effective fire, it’s time to start worrying about such other steps as checking to see if the airway is open so the victim can breathe, he explained.
The Fort Lewis medics were able to illustrate the training with personal experiences.
When explaining how to pack a wound with gauze, Kerlee repeatedly stressed to “pack to the bone.”
“I packed one entire roll of gauze into an ankle one time,” Kerlee said.