Training SEAL Combat Medics and Corpsmen
by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew C. Duncker
Naval Special Warfare Group ONE
September 3, 2020
The Navy SEAL ethos states that it demands discipline and expects innovation; a teammate’s life, as well as the success of the mission depends on technical skill, tactical proficiency and attention to detail. Training is never complete. This is especially true for combat medics.
A combat medic’s skills must be continuously practiced and maintained at the highest level. High-intensity training promotes and nurtures opportunities for skill advancement and sustainment which translates to lives saved on the battlefield.
August 6, 2020 - A Special Operator (SO) treats a medical dummy for simulated injuries during a Tactical Combat Critical Care (TCCC) and Prolonged Field Care (PFC) training evolution held at Strategic Operations. The evolution was part of a week-long training course held by Naval Special Warfare Group 1 Operational Medical Training Cell for SO medics and independent duty Hospital Corpsmen to practice and develop TCCC and PFC training. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew C. Duncker)
Answering the call from deck-plate leadership for more medical training, Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG) 1’s newly established Tactical Medical Cell (TMC) developed an advanced combat medicine course of instruction. The course covers Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) and Prolonged Field Care (PFC) and provides training to an integrated team of SEAL medics and augmented independent duty corpsmen (IDC).
TMC Training Director Cmdr. Levi Kitchen believes that this course will help to ensure SEAL medics and IDCs are proficient in the latest combat medical concepts aimed to limit preventable combat trauma death.
“To my knowledge, there is no training like this within NSW that is organically sourced amongst Department of Defense (DoD) components,” said Kitchen. “There are courses similar to this, but they are generally contracted out with a heavy price tag. Though labor intensive for the NSWG-1 TMC, we provide advanced training for a fraction of the cost.”
Kitchen added that the TMC is uniquely positioned to provide this excellent training because the unit has the support of its leaders in addition to the use of one of the largest military medical centers in the world.
The weeklong training, held at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) BioSkills & Simulation Training Center focuses on TCCC which was initially developed by Dr. Frank Butler, a former Navy SEAL officer, in 1996. Hoping to reduce preventable combat trauma deaths, Butler developed research protocols and examined combat trauma experiences to find where medicine had fallen short in saving lives on the battlefield.
After identifying areas for improvement, a curriculum was developed and utilized by Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel beginning in 1997. It has since grown into a DoD-wide training curriculum.
PFC is an extension of TCCC concepts and designed to care for combat casualties in austere locations without available medical evacuation resources – a scenario not uncommon to SOF.
Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Noel Sons is the TMC tactical medical lead. Sons states that from his experience in SOF medicine, the best possible outcome in SOF medicine is a result of dedicated and diverse teams of medical professionals working in close partnership with SEAL medics and IDCs.
“Cmdr. Kitchen and I developed the TMC program to be an example of the proud NSW tradition of persistence, perseverance, and excellence under challenging conditions,” said Sons.
According to Chief Special Warfare Operator Dave Dillehay, the TMC leading chief petty officer, SEAL medics are often cross-trained in different specialties such as sniper or breacher. The time available for specific medical training is limited or difficult to obtain due to the cost and logistics involved.
“This week is protected time specifically focused on combat trauma without the distractions of other roles and responsibilities,” said Dillehay. “The training via NSWG-1 puts the combat medics and IDCs in direct contact with a subject matter expert (SME) in combat trauma medicine by utilizing the extensive resources of NMCSD.”
The course is strategically placed at the end of the Inter-Deployment Training Cycle to provide a high-fidelity combat medical refresher prior to a SEAL team’s deployment.
The first three days of training employ the didactic method of learning and build upon the strong foundational knowledge of the combat medics and IDCs. Lectures are facilitated by SMEs from trauma surgery, orthopedic surgery, emergency medicine, otolaryngology, anesthesia, and general surgery. Additionally, time is spent in simulation and cadaver labs practicing TCCC and PFC techniques.
Kitchen notes that this training allows for the integration of IDCs into medical treatment teams with medics.
August 6, 2020 - Special Operators (SO) perform a simulated tracheal intubation on a role-player during a Tactical Combat Critical Care (TCCC) and Prolonged Field Care (PFC) training evolution held at Strategic Operations. The evolution was part of a week-long training course held by Naval Special Warfare Group 1 Operational Medical Training Cell for SO medics and independent duty Hospital Corpsmen to practice and develop TCCC and PFC training.(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew C. Duncker)
“IDCs and SEAL medics have completely separate training pipelines, rarely do they interact in a training environment which can lead to confusion with roles, responsibilities and capabilities in the operational environment,” said Kitchen. “By focusing this course on a SEAL team’s medics and IDCs, they are able to train together and become a fully integrated medical treatment team.”
The fourth day is the capstone of the week’s training. SEALs and IDCs are involved in realistic scenario training at Strategic Operations, a combat medical training facility in San Diego.
“The capstone event provides simulated environments in order to fully immerse the students and allow them to use the skills and training received throughout the course,” said Sons. “Environments range from naval vessels and a crashed helicopter to a medical trauma center. Realism is added with explosions, sounds of gun fire, and role-players that utilize prosthetics and fake blood to simulate realistic combat injuries.”
The fifth and final day is conducted in small groups and covers controlled substance inventory, authorized medical allowance list refresher, advanced ultrasound.
Kitchen believes that in the current medical climate, developing in-house training for NSW combat medics and IDCs is crucial. The course is the first step of a training program which includes special operations diving medicine, whole blood transfusion, and high fidelity combat casualty scenarios interspersed throughout the training cycle.
“At a time when training is being cancelled or becoming untenable due to restriction of movement (ROM) requirements, we are able to produce an extremely high quality, locally sourced product thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 and the associated ROM requirements for course attendees,” said Kitchen.
In providing regular local training classes and simulated environments, NSWG-1’s TMC has created a program that, despite constrained timelines and a global pandemic, allows for combat medics and IDCs to remain fully prepared to care for combat casualties. With continued support, TMC will further develop a robust training program that will measure its continued success in lives saved on the battlefield.
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