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Centcom Strives to Preserve, Share Combat Trauma Lessons

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2013 – U.S. Central Command is working to ensure the lessons learned and experience gained in combat medicine during the past 12 years of conflict in its area of responsibility are preserved so they can be adapted for future missions anywhere in the world.

The Centcom surgeon’s office developed the Joint Theater Trauma System in the mid-2000s to improve the level of care provided to wounded warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system, which addresses combat care from the point of the injury through increasing levels of care and into rehabilitation, is credited with some of the most sweeping advances ever made in military medicine.

Calling the medical professionals who promoted them “the heroes of this conflict from a medical standpoint,” Air Force Col. (Dr.) Mark Mavity, Centcom’s command surgeon, said he is committed to ensuring those gains aren’t lost as combat operations wind down in Afghanistan.

“As we move forward, the challenge is now to take those lessons and be able to sustain those and move those forward in preparation for the next conflict,” he said. “So as the JTTS gets smaller in the theater, we are working through those issues to ensure we can ramp it back up to its potential when and if we would need to.”

The success of that effort will extend far beyond Centcom’s area of responsibility, Mavity said.

“This is a capability we tested and developed in Centcom, but it is absolutely applicable to any theater of operations that we could find ourselves engaged in as a U.S. military,” he said. “That drives us to work hard to make sure the experience we have gained in this single theater are distributed and that the knowledge gained is available to the Military Health System, regardless of the theater.”

The JTTS provides a proven model for projecting “this very low-supply but high-demand capability of trauma specialists and pre-hospital care specialists,” Mavity said. “We have got to get this captured, all the way from ‘How do we execute a joint trauma system in a deployed environment?’ to the very individual tactics, techniques and procedures in the medical level of execution.

“What’s important,” he continued, “is that we make sure we understand the process, we capture that, and then we build the pieces into our deployment machinery such that we can replicate this same capability with the same kinds of skills mixes and insert them, no matter where this military is asked to go fight in the future. That way, when we go establish another theater of operations somewhere, we will be able to capture those lessons as we plug the same capabilities with the same kinds of experts from trauma surgeons down to forward-based operational medical folks.”

But Centcom isn’t waiting for the end of combat operations in Afghanistan to begin its outreach. While remaining focused on the ongoing wartime military medical mission, the command’s medical staff already is at work helping counterparts at the U.S. Pacific Command develop a model of the Joint Theater Trauma System relevant to the Asia-Pacific region.

“The objectives are the same, but the practice environment is very different,” said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Jeffrey Bailey, director of the Joint Trauma System, who recently returned from Afghanistan, where he served as the Joint Theater Trauma System director.

A Pacom working group dedicated to the project interfaces closely with its Centcom counterparts “and is pretty far down the road” in developing its own model, Bailey reported.

“Their intent is, instead of retrofitting a trauma system onto their theater after a conflict has occurred, to get ahead of that and lay the framework for that,” he explained. “It will be a scaffold that they can augment and adapt more effectively than trying to catch up with the gaps that would open up after a major conflict ensues.”

(Follow Donna Miles on Twitter:@MilesAFPS)


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