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February 21, 2012

Behind the Secret Curtain of the U.S. Military’s "Goat Lab"

In the darkness, the SOF medic can’t see because the flashing strobe has taken his night adapted eyesight away. He blindly feels slowly and methodically along the body for the exit wound behind the back. Then he feels it, the warm blood from the bullet wound touches his fingers and heightens his senses, a little gush with every heart beat pushes blood out of the gaping hole.

The gunfight in the background has been muted as far as he’s concerned, He’s only committed to saving the life of his teammate right now. He can feel the warm spit hit his face in the darkness as someone yells “Ten mikes to extract!” He slowly nods his head and feels for a pulse. He gets a steady thump (pause), thump (pause), thump; not quite as fast and weak as it was in the beginning; his friend has stabilized for now,

Another life saved, he thinks to himself.

The medic tries to push out the thoughts and images of so many friends lost last deployment to IEDs, He sharpens his mind’s eye and feels a sense of relief and accomplishment knowing he has saved another life.

Suddenly, the bright lights come on! He looks down to see his friend lying on the floor, only he’s looking at a gun shot goat.

When Killing Animals Saves Lives

The word is out that the US Military engages in ‘live tissue training.’ For those of you out there that think we’re revealing some classified material here, just spend a little time around the internet and you’ll find that Fox has reported on it as well as Stars and Stripes, the LA Times, and many other news sources. If the super sleuths at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) can figure it out, it can’t be that hard.

Former students at 18 Delta Special Forces Combat Medical School might reference it as ‘Goat Lab’, but let’s not forget the brave goats, pigs and cats (they simulate infants) that have also sacrificed their lives so that others may live. The practice of using animals as training aids for combat medics and forward operators (among others) has spurred intense controversy and legislation that is pending on the further ability to use animals as ‘patients.’

I’m an animal lover, I always have been. When I was asked as a little kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always the same: a veterinarian. All animals, too, even cats (for all you cat haters out there). I always appreciated how cats, even after being separated from their mother at birth, still have a natural instinct to hunt and kill. I like animals more than most people, really, and would much rather hunt people than some rare sheep high in the mountains of a former Soviet republic. It’s more sporting. People can shoot back.

But when it comes to using animals to help train our Combat Medics, soldiers, and forward operators, I’m all for it. (For the record, I’m not bashing hunting… I love me some venison, elk, pheasant…..)

There is currently a Bill before Congress, H.R. 1417, the Best Practices Act, sponsored by Southern California’s very own Rep. Bob Filner, which, in summary is trying to amend Title 10, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Defense to use “only human-based methods for training members of the Armed Forces in the treatment of severe combat injuries”. (As I understand it, it is still sitting with the House Armed Services Committee.)

The Bill suggests that it is an “imperative” to replace live tissue training and calls the use of live tissue training “outdated and inferior” relative to simulators and moulage training, Excuse my French, but this is utter bullsh*t.

The reason the 18 Delta medics and now other SOF units have been using this method before and throughout the GWOT is because it works. We have the best trained and most prepared combat medics in the world, and they have and will continue to save lives because of the use of caprines and other animals in training.

The reason that this works is multifold, You can simulate performing a surgical crycothyrotomy on a mannequin a dozen times, but until you’ve cut through living tissue on a creature whose life is depending on your timely and successful procedure to survive, you’ve never really done it. Being able to tent the skin in the dark, slick with real blood, with smoke and explosions all around you, and get the tactile sensation of your scalpel through real flesh, the whoosh of air when you punch through the crycothyroid membrane and secure your endotracheal tube and Ambu Bag (if needed) isn’t something you can use a dummy to simulate, and moulage just doesn’t quite cut it either.

I realize that there are some very high tech (and very expensive) simulators on the market and being prepared to be brought online with the US Mil, but in my opinion, and until proven otherwise, will still be found wanting. Additionally, it tests the operator. 18 Delta is still part of the Q Course for aspiring Green Berets, and to put someone under pressure in a realistic combat training scenario with their ‘patient’ spurting blood from an arterial wound tests the mettle of that individual.

It’s all well and good to work through a moulage or simulator scenario and come away covered in fake blood, but the real thing changes your perspective. When you are attempting to stop an arterial bleed and every second you can feel and see the heart pumping out the lifeblood of a living creature, your heart rate rises, and despite the fact that you are working on an animal, you find yourself caring.

Some candidates will find themselves unable to control their emotions, crack under the pressure, stop thinking clearly and forget their training – exactly what is intended. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

Live tissue training prepares people for real world trauma.

The opposition to live tissue training argues that due to anatomical and physiological differences between goats and humans (thicker skin, smaller appendages) that training is ‘suboptimal.’ Indeed it is ‘suboptimal,’ but until it becomes legal to perform these procedures on Death Row inmates, it’s the best current viable and cost effective option.

Additionally, the animals are treated with the utmost care, and are anesthetized before and throughout the training, and euthanized after the exercise, They feel no pain. They are carefully monitored by trainers and veterinarians, who ultimately follow guidelines established by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

I would imagine that many a PETA member would change their mind if they had sons and daughters fighting overseas (that’s a big IF), and spoke to or read the testimonials from medics and operators who have gone through live tissue training.

From my personal experience and from what I have researched and read, it is universally supported and touted by those that have been trained on live tissue as being by far the most realistic, most effective training currently available, and that it saves lives at home and abroad.

Glen Doherty, a former Navy SEAL, was killed with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya on Sep. 11, 2012.

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  • SFDocGuy

    PETA has been trying to get rid of LTT for years, so I can't say I'm surprised about this.  Regardless, it's a sad day.  There is absolutely no substitute for LTT.  Nothing else comes close right now, including any mannequins that are currently being used (and I've used a few).  Politicians and civilians should keep their opinions to themselves when it comes to training for combat, unless they're willing to get into the fight.

  • hemsparamedic

    Former 0000-8404 HM3 and current paramedic specialist on an Advanced Life Support  intercept unit in DE. I taught and coordinated the first (that I know of) SEAL-SDV Team EMT and paramedic programs specifically  for NSWG-1 from 1994-1999 taught at the teams within compound walls  (you can have shiply verify this.) Ty Woods (RIP dude) darrel moore, walt disney, rick winters, Jason Mullaney..etc  were all students of mine. I can tell you this:  live tissue training is the best way to prepare special operators for trauma care. I can also tell you that the companies  that make the manaquins (sim-man, trauma-man) are in it for the money and let me tell you folks  those mother fuckers are making a shit ton of money, In addition, per EMS industry standard, THEY are funding most of the research that finds in favor of using simulated injuries instead of actual injuries. you do the math. The bottom line is that any data that comes out from those kind of  studies has to be looked at very closely because most of them support the military buying $75,000 manaquins (per unit price)  In otherwords there is some shady shit going down just to make a buck.

  • LauraWalkerKC

    A baaaad idea? Fort Bragg to stop using goats in medical training   Somewhere a special someone is rolling his eyes.  If you can still do that in heaven :)

  • Old PH2

     @DRevis Hey no worries, that was many years ago, 33 to be exact.  Times are vastly different.  One thing I've learned over the years, just 'cause we "always used to do it that way, "don't mean we can't learn a new way.  Keep asking questions, the guys on this site will do their best to answer them.   

  • DRevis

     @Old PH2 Yeah, I responded emotionally and didn't feel great about that. Thanks for responding.