What's in an Army first aid kit?

What's a Combat Lifesaver?

On the battlefield, the faster a wound can be treated, the better chance of recovery. According to retired Lt. Col. Donald Parsons, improved training coupled with superior medical supplies can reduce the number of battlefield deaths by as much as 15 to 20 percent.

"The days of not providing self-aid and lying there and yelling 'Medic' are over," wrote Parsons in 2004. "We must have the ability to assess our own wounds, provide self- or buddy aid if needed, and continue the mission if able."

Since medics aren't always available -- and self-aid isn't always possible -- the Army instituted the "combat lifesaver" program. With medical training somewhere between basic and combat medic, these nonmedical soldiers' second mission (after combat) is to offer lifesaving aid.

That soldier is equipped with a Combat Lifesaver Bag, which is more extensive than the IFAK each soldier carries. In addition to the IFAK basics, the constantly evolving Combat Lifesaver Bag (also known as a Medical Equipment Set) includes an expanded array of:

  • Bandages, dressings and adhesive tape
  • Clotting agents, diazepam injection syringe
  • Abdominal wound trauma kit and chest wound dressing
  • Atropine injection syringe, intravenous equipment
  • Water repellent heating blanket or survival blanket
  • Shears, scissors and splints
  • Eye shield
  • Nasal trumpet
  • Alcohol pads

Further, every soldier has received detailed training in how to use the lifesaving gear contained in the Combat Lifesaver Bag.

"The Army policy used to be one combat lifesaver per squad of soldiers," said Maj. Kenneth Koyle. "They have determined -- in the past couple of years -- that that training is so beneficial that every soldier now gets combat lifesaver training as part of [his] basic training … Every soldier is now a combat lifesaver."

The 40-hour training course is extensive. It covers care under fire, tactical care, controlling bleeding with and without a tourniquet, opening and managing the airway, treating an open chest wound and possible collapsed lung, treating torso trauma and tactical movement of an injured soldier.

Finally, the full Army combat medic's kit is even more wide-ranging, and includes a stethoscope, suction kits with catheter, surgical sponges, traction tools, a pulse oximeter to measure oxygen saturation, hand-operated resuscitator, sodium chloride injections, an airway toolkit and surgical drainage tubes.

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