CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- A convoy of Marines rolls through a small town. Suddenly, an explosion shakes the earth, and a plume of dirt and debris rockets skyward. The smoke clears to reveal Marines in need of medical attention.
The injured lay on the ground with no corpsman in sight. This is like a war movie and only one Marine has been cast as the lead role. That Marine must think back to his training and ask himself, "Do I know what to do?"
To ensure Marines know how to react if they encounter the above scenario, the Regimental Combat Team 1 Regimental Aid Station is conducting a combat aidsman course aboard Camp Fallujah.
The purpose of the course is to prepare Marines to assist corpsmen in providing first aid on the battlefield. Corpsmen know that if a high number of casualties are taken at once the injured Marines' odds of survival will increase if the corpsman is not the only one with this life saving knowledge.
"I want Marines to be able to save a life," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles P. Borrego with RAS, Headquarters Company, RCT-1. "If there are 30 Marines with the combat aidsman skills and only one corpsman, those Marines can spread out and react quicker than one of us."
The course stretches over a five-day period with two hours of instruction and practical application per day. The lessons focus on basic life saving techniques for the battlefield.
Borrego, the instructor for the course, teaches the classes from the Combat Aidsman Handbook, while mixing in stories and personal experiences of his own.
The fist lesson he teaches the class is that before a Marine even thinks of digging into a first aid kit to help those around him or himself, he must suppress the threat.
"The best medicine on the battlefield is fire superiority," said Borrego, 26, a native of Apple Valley, Calif. "The order of the tactical combat casualty care objectives is to complete the mission, prevent additional casualties and then treat the casualty."
Nearly 90 percent of war deaths occur in the combat zone before the casualty ever reaches a medical facility, according to the Combat Aidsman Handbook.
"There is no substitute for a first responder who can be at the scene of a traumatic injury, assess that injury and apply the correct life saving treatment," said Lt. Cmdr. Joseph F. Penta, the regimental surgeon for RCT-1.
Bleeding to death from extremity wounds accounts for 60 percent of battlefield deaths that possibly could have been prevented.
"By teaching Marines how to apply first aid to a fellow Marine, lives will be saved," said Penta, 34, a native of San Clemente, Calif. "Something as simple as
knowing how and when to put on a tourniquet can save a life."
The course introduces some new techniques, but mostly reinforces first aid skills that Marines were taught in basic training.
"These skills must be fresh in your mind while out in Iraq," said Lance Cpl. Ray A. DelBosque, 22, a native of Odessa, Texas, and an electrical optical technician with Headquarters Company, RCT-1. "You never know when you'll have to apply first aid to an injured Marine."
On the battlefield, medical facilities are non-existent and treatment can be limited. However, reacting to the situation quickly can mean the difference between life and death.
"Providing medical care and life saving techniques does not require a degree," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael J. Smith, 38, a native of Ridgecrest, Calif., and the RAS chief for RCT-1. "Anybody can take this course and immediately apply what they have learned in an emergency situation."
If the corpsman goes down or cannot get to the casualties, fellow Marines must be able to respond to the situation in a timely manner, said Borrego.
The class covers burns, combat stress, tactical triage, tourniquets, pressure dressings and other key first aid knowledge.
Out in the field any scenario is possible. Having the knowledge to deal with combat casualties should be an essential tool for every Marine.