Iowa's Combat Medic School

Oct 16, 2014

Just outside Des Moines, in a building at Camp Dodge, medics and first responders are being trained under simulated battle conditions that look and sound like an episode of “Homeland,” or “24.” IPR’s Rick Fredericksen was there for the final exam.


Eleven soldiers are preparing for the ultimate stress test as Combat Life Savers; armed with rifles, first aid kits and three days of classroom instruction. They have no idea what awaits them on the other side of this door.

“Go, go, go.” (Gunfire, aircraft, explosion, etc.)

There’s been a suicide bombing and the battlefield is active. Through the darkness and smoke, the first responders rush to help downed Americans. Mike Thul is an instructor at the Medical Simulation Training Center.

“They’re’ following a march algorithm which treats massive hemorrhage, any airway deficiencies, respiration, circulation to make sure they have a pulse, and hypothermia so they’ll make sure  to try to keep them as warm as possible as well.”

A control room operator keeps the exercise chaotic with a soundtrack of disorienting urgency. The mangled bodies on the floor are robotic mannequins that move and breathe. There’s a pool of blood where one lifelike soldier has lost both legs; the bleeding won’t stop until tourniquets are properly applied. Then, another surprise; one of the wounded is an anatomically correct woman.

“Most of the time soldiers come in here not expecting to see a female on the battlefield that’s been a casualty, so, not to be shy about it, that hey, they’re a soldier too we’ve got to take care of them. So they didn’t know that before they came in? No.”

(Radio) “There are armed insurgents moving to your location for a secondary assault.”

Since opening late last year, about 1,200 men and women have been trained here, including Army medics and Navy corpsmen. This group of National Guard and reserve soldiers is graduating from the Combat Life Savers course.  They are not medics per se, but are qualified first responders who can stabilize patients until help arrives.

"I would have to say the whole thing kind of surprised, just going in and it was instantly there.”  

Staff Sgt. Steve Simmons is from Prairie City.

"We had one that was kind of DOA already when we got there , and that’s just one of those life lessons  you know, try not to get tunnel vision cause we know these are going to be our buddies and try not to get that tunnel vision being able to save other lives, so out of the four we did treat yea they all did survive.”

Rachel Gebhardt is a Sgt. First Class from Red Oak.

“Part of me enjoys going through training like this you know the CPR classes and things like that, I don’t want to be useless if I walk up on something you know, if I see a car accident or I see something I want to be able to help people live if that’s what I can do.”

Instructor Mike Thul is  also a medic.

“They are live savers, that’s the title of the course Combat Life Savers, you’re looking anywhere from 20 minutes to hours before the medical assets get there.”

So far, the medic training center focuses on severe trauma and combat injuries. But if necessary, instruction could be expanded to include things like Ebola, as the US military is deployed to new hotspots around the world. At Camp Dodge, I’m Rick Fredericksen, Iowa Public Radio News.