When it comes to medical care under fire it’s hard to find a better remedy than Special Operations combat medics.
Last year, two Ranger combat medics proved that fact by saving the lives of six of their brothers during an operation that went south in Afghanistan. And they did so by implementing medical procedures that had never before been used in combat.
Staff Sergeant Charles Bowen and Sergeant Ty Able, two Ranger combat medics assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were part of a Ranger assault force that was conducting a routine High-Value-Target (HVT) operation in Wardak province. The assault force was inserted by helicopters some distance away from the target building. While clearing the objective, the assault force came under heavy enemy fire. Soon people started to go down.
“The first casualty yelled out ‘I’m hit, I’m hit,’ recalled Staff Sgt. Bowen. “I looked at his leg and did not see any blood so I told him to go outside of the building and have someone evaluate his wounds. At the same time, the second casualty yelled out ‘Doc, I’m really messed up! I asked the second casualty if he could hear me and he responded with ‘Yeah, it really hurts, Doc.’”
The second casualty lied down in the open while a hellacious firefight was taking place all around him. Bowen ran to his side and pulled him behind rudimentary cover. Judging his condition critical — a sucking chest wound — Bowen started life-saving procedures.
“I went to my aid belt and pulled out a needle chest decompression, an intravenous kit and one gram of pre-drawn Tranexamic Acid (TXA), a medication for trauma patients that reduces death due to bleeding,” said Bowen.
Bowen and Sgt. Able then moved the casualties, three critical by this point, to the Casualty Collection Point (CCP). The CCP, however, was exposed and under enemy fire. As they frantically tried to stabilize their comrades, more wounded Rangers started to come in. One, a canine handler, was shot through the neck. Blood pouring out, the Ranger stumbled to the CCP. Bowen and Able, while under fire, performed a surgical cricothyroidotomy, opening the Ranger’s neck so he wouldn’t drown in his own blood.
Meanwhile, one of the other casualties was bleeding at such a high rate that he would expire unless Bowen and Able did something. They decided to perform the Ranger O-Low Titre (ROLO) protocol. Essentially, ROLO is a blood transfusion on the battlefield.
According to the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Command Surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Knight, ROLO “is a novel protocol created in the 75th Ranger Regiment that is transforming how we treat battlefield casualties.”
“To provide this level of care, Bowen and Able, had to ignore their own survival instincts and concentrate on their patients,” added Lt. Col Knight. “They displayed the highest levels of courage as they repeatedly placed their patients’ survival above their own safety. They will say they were just doing what they are trained to do, and in some ways they are right.”
Several Rangers in each platoon are certified Advanced-Ranger First Responders, an equivalent of the civilian Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). They serve as a bridge between the platoon’s combat medics and the average Ranger, who has basic first-aid knowledge.
Like most Special Operators, Ranger combat medics undergo the intellectually arduous Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) course.