As all good military leaders do, the morning started out with a mandatory pre-combat inspection (PCI) of the platoon’s individual first aid kit (IFAK). However, this leader was not your typical leader, he was the platoon’s senior medic, whose main objective is the health of the force. The day’s mission is supposed to be quick and easy, but as a seasoned combat medic, he was taking no chances. The platoon was in formation and grumbling about how necessary was another check of the same equipment that had been checked prior to every other mission, and left unused. With no concern about the irritation in the demeanor of the troops before him, this medic took to calling out each item the IFAK should contain, the condition it should be in, and requiring each troop to prove the item was in usable condition inside the kit.
Issued with a purpose, packed with intent.
The IFAK is issued to all troops and part of the basic combat load. The kit contains everything necessary for emergency combat self-aid and buddy aid. The kit is relatively small (although markedly larger than those of Vietnam or even Desert Storm era), no larger than a folded up rain poncho or a side-carried canteen. It’s issued contents are based on decades of lessons learned regarding combat casualties and are aimed at reducing preventable deaths caused by exsanguination (massive hemorrhage), tension pneumothorax, and airway compromise. Troops are all trained and proficient in how to use the provided tools included in the kit both on themselves as well as on their comrades, in the event of a combat injury before a medic arrives and can provide advanced medical interventions.
The purpose of the IFAK is for the contents to be used on the wearer of the kit, making each person responsible for carrying the tools that may save their own lives. To prevent taking from the cache of their brother in arms, they are responsible for stocking and maintaining their own kit. And in the event they have exhausted the equipment, in an emergency battlefield situation, they have the backup of another casualty’s or a responding buddy. However, as is typical of those young, invincible, men sent to war, carrying emergency medical equipment often seems to be a “waste of space” — until, of course, they experience a classic Black Hawk Down moment and then they are racking their brains trying to remember what they ignored the medic saying, wishing desperately that they had paid more attention.
Not a snack pouch!
As most troops do, his were no different. Plenty of them had found storage for their snacks and other personal items in any of the pouches on their combat vest they could find. Not willing to sacrifice the space required for communication equipment, ammunition, and water sources, the IFAK was a natural “extra” hiding place for all the other things that had no home — chapstick, lighter, granola bars and beef jerky (affectionately referred to as scooby snacks). Calmly and confidently, the good medic lectures the men about the importance of each item in the kit, recanting tails of how mis-packed IFAKs resulted in a ride home in a pine box rather than a few weeks in Landstuhl en route to their home base. Many an eye was rolled and jerky sticks shoved further down, out of ready sight.
The good medic’s inventory.
Item by item, the medic pulled an instrument out of the sample IFAK he had packed, offering replacements for missing, unserviceable, or expired items. “Tourniquet: take it out of the factory package, take it apart and set it up just as I am showing you. Loop it through a single loop of the friction buckle, fold it over so that it is no longer than your side bottom cargo pocket, about the size of a dollar bill. Secure the windlass rod, and store it in your bottom left cargo pocket with the colored tab exposed.” More grumbles as the men made space in their pockets and did as they were told. One by one, the IFAK gut packages are checked for integrity, fittings, and expiration dates; TCCC (tactical combat casualty care) cards are pre-filled out with each individual’s demographic information, and NPA (nasopharyngeal airways) are fitted to each individual — because this medic doesn’t believe in the military’s stance of “one size fits most.”
Don’t use your lube for anything else… or else!
When it comes to the NPA, the medic warns the platoon that there should be a single-use packet of surgilube® water-based surgical lubricant taped to the NPA. “If there is not, replace it now, and whatever you do, do not use this packet of lube for anything else.” The platoon erupts with a round of snickers, giggles, and a few high fives, similar to that of a middle school sex ed class. The medic warns that while surgilube® is a superior lubricant that is both a sterile bacteriostatic and water-soluble for easy cleanup and premium viscosity, that it is meant to offer a slick route to guide the NPA. He challenges them that if the single-use packet is missing and they require insertion of an NPA, the person doing the insertion will be forced to use their own saliva. Another eruption of laughter and a squad worth of hands raised requesting a replacement pack goes up. Finally, the IFAKs are stocked and ready to go.
Although the platoon’s senior medic cannot ensure the safety of the men in front of him on today’s mission, he can rest assured that the steps he took at the morning’s PCI formation will help ensure that if the mission doesn’t go as planned, each individual has the tools required to prevent the three most common causes of preventable battlefield deaths — and that helps the good medic breathe a little easier. When you have the support and protection of products like surgilube® at your six, you can get back to ensuring the welfare of your troops and accomplishing your mission, instead of worrying about the little things.