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Feature Stories

NEWS | June 22, 2019

U.S. physician teaches SE19 medical participants to ‘race the Reaper’

By Maj. Kevin Sandell U.S. Army Central

Opening his classroom instruction to a room full of Kazakhstani, Tajikistani, and Kyrgyz Republic military physicians participating in exercise Steppe Eagle 19, U.S. Army physician, Maj. Michael Eiffert, M.D. told the attendees an intriguing quote, “An army of at-risk soldiers is susceptible to defeat. The defeated army is exceedingly vulnerable to large-scale disease and starvation.”

Using that mindset for his discussion, Eiffert taught a Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3) and Health Service Support in Peacekeeping Operations class, June 20, to 25 military physicians from the Central and South Asia region. Five nations – the United States, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and the United Kingdom – sent medical and non-medical participants for the 12-day Steppe Eagle 19 peacekeeping operations exercise. Many of the exercise’s training scenarios involve medical care under fire, as well as hemorrhage control and preventive medicine, which necessitates the TC3 class for partner nations.

“It’s my hope that we can build the concepts from [Tactical Combat Casualty Care] and throw additional scenarios at the [partner nation] physicians who can react to those situations and tell me what they would do in each situation,” Eiffert said. “They can perform the things they know how to do, but since we all need practice, this would be good practice for them. We’re going to take that right out from the classroom to the field training.”

Maj. Eiffert, a Rochester, New York native, is assigned to the U.S. Army Reserve’s 349th Combat Support Hospital (known by their motto – “We race the Reaper!”), and currently serves as the Officer-in Charge for the Specialty Care Clinic at the U.S. Military Hospital at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. He was deployed to Kazakhstan to conduct this training under a U.S. Army Central request and said the training can apply immediately to many of the medical participants.

“Training up the medics and the providers to be able to recognize these problems quickly and make corrective actions is important and increases survival,” Eiffert said.

Earlier in the week, Steppe Eagle 19 participants were coached on tourniquets, buddy carries and other medical interventions, but Maj. Eiffert emphasized that hemorrhaging is the leading cause of preventable deaths on the battlefield and stressed the same during the TC3 class to physicians.

“When I was training the enlisted soldiers, I emphasized tourniquets, because that alone will save their battle buddies,” Eiffert said. “Then getting them as quickly as possible to the next echelon of care so more experienced people can take over and carry the care forward. It’s the difference between an unnecessary death and someone going home and being with their family.”

Multiple clinical and military publications have cited the fact that U.S. troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq had the best survival rates for any wars in U.S. military history, thanks in large part to military medical breakthroughs and applying first aid basics to critically wounded patients.

In peacekeeping operations, however, the operations tempo may be slower and less lethal, but medical providers play a critical role in goodwill and improving the health of the force and the local populace.

For Maj. Tallant, a physician with the Kyrgyz Republic’s military and head of its Surgical Unit, the medical training at Steppe Eagle 19 is applicable to the country’s possible future humanitarian assistance deployments to Africa.

“It’s important for the Kyrgyz Republic to be a partner in peacekeeping,” Tallant said.

The 14-year doctor said Kyrgyzstan is working to steadily emplace its military field hospitals farther forward in contingency environments, enabling medical providers to work within the Golden Hour – a procedure practiced worldwide that transports critically-injured patients to a hospital within one hour of injury.

Kazakhstan has also sent its military into international peacekeeping missions, such as the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Ever-evolving contingency missions like Lebanon and Africa necessitate trained and ready medical professionals on the front lines of peacekeeping operations.

“In peacekeeping operations, there isn’t really an ongoing military conflict ideally, and so the combat arms become less salient, and what becomes more important is the health support services,” Eiffert said. “Taking care of Soldiers, civilian contractors, U.N. officials, and dignitaries, the physicians need to be prepared to provide the services those patients need.”

Maj. Eiffert reminded the military medical participants attending his class that a healthy military force and local population ultimately allow a military commander to seize the initiative and go on the offensive.

“In reality, the medical component of each mission is critical to the success of each mission, and I think it’s easy to underappreciate that as a physician.”