Army’s new ‘behind enemy lines’ medic course graduates its first soldiers

ECM course students at their graduation ceremony. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher J. Gallagher )

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A frantic call for a medic rings out from the front of the convoy. The unit had just started a patrol around the recently-liberated city when an IED had exploded in front of convoy’s first vehicle, critically injuring the driver, who now lies unconscious on the side of the road.

While a Soldier radios for a medevac helicopter, the medic quickly assesses the wounded Soldier’s injuries, and knows that they will have to get the Soldier to a field trauma surgeon quickly in order to stop the massive bleeding from a heavily damaged artery.

However, a cackle over the radio confirms the bad news: all of the nearest helicopters have been called in to provide aviation support for an intense firefight with insurgents that just broke out on the other side of the city. It will take at least two to three hours for a free helicopter to arrive from a remote base to pick up the injured Soldier. What should the medic do to stabilize the Soldier and keep him alive until he is able to be evacuated to a surgeon?

That question is the focus of the newly developed Expeditionary Combat Medic program, which certifies combat medics to provide higher-level care in intense battlefield medical situations where evacuation to a field hospital may not be immediately available.

Expeditionary Combat Medics are certified through the program to provide advanced medical services that treat common conditions, prevent disease, treat combat trauma casualties, and if possible, hold injured or diseased Soldiers for extended periods — up to 24 hours –under the direct or indirect supervision of a medical provider. The Combat Medic (68W) is not currently trained or equipped to meet this need.

Ten U.S. Army medic paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division were the first to graduate from the ECM program during a ceremony inside the 82nd Airborne Division Hall of Heroes at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Dec. 19, 2017.

Sgt. 1st Class Joey Hernandez, lead instructor of the ECM program, discussed the reasons behind the creation of the program. “We addressed a gap that has been identified in the ability to provide prolonged patient holding at the point of injury to about the Role 1 and Role 2 setting … We got very comfortable with those predictable medical evacuation rings, and the golden hour was kind of the rule,” he said, noting that changes in warfare over the past decade do not guarantee that injured Soldiers will be able to be medically evacuated within that hour timeframe.

During the 24-week course, the 82nd Airborne Soldiers had to train in various areas of medicine that included prolonged care, focused primary care, force health protection and updated tactical combat casualty care. The training certifies that the ECM will be better qualified in the absence of a medical provider, especially during times of combat when units are greatly dispersed.

“We are all much better now than we were six months ago,” said Sgt. Kevin Hornbeck, an ECM graduate assigned to 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. “Whether it’s overseas, on the battle field, or here in garrison, we now have a lot of knowledge and experience to share with our other medics and to better our units in the 82nd and the Army. I think it’s a great stepping stone for all of our future medics.”

Though the training will continue in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the 82nd Airborne Division eagerly accepted the opportunity to conduct the pilot training, Hernandez said. This included the use of the fort’s facilities at the Womack Army Medical Center, and the Robinson, Joel, and Clark Health Clinics.

This new course has been treated as a huge success throughout the Army. Expansion plans for the program include an increase in the number of classes to six classes a year, with 60 students per class — resulting in just under 400 new ECM qualified medics each year.

“Our warfighting doctrine demands that our front line medic’s knowledge, skills and abilities be as razor sharp as any scalpel they may hold in their young hands, as they indeed hold the front line of life,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Ecker, former Medical Command command sergeant major. “The medic is the first formal friction of Army medicines lifesaving and healing roles and echelons of care, and we need to respect and continue to resource that fact.”


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