Appreciation for the youth of our military

Steve Aude
Steve Aude

On the same day 13 American military were killed in Afghanistan, I was observing Army soldiers honing their combat casualty care skills at a U.S. installation. Both events occurring on the same day brought home how much the cost of war is borne by those still in their teens and 20s. The release of the names and ages of those killed in the Kabul attack confirmed this, as do the statistics on war casualties generally.

The soldiers I observed stateside performing casualty care were being challenged to the max by the training. Teams of five soldiers carried weapons and wore armor-plated vests. They started the day with an outdoor obstacle course. Not just any obstacle course. They encountered a wounded soldier (200-pound mannequin) inside a tank turret. The team had to lift the wounded soldier out of the tank turret and then perform casualty care on its simulated wounds while security was maintained beneath the sweltering heat of an August summer day. The team of five then carried the 200-pound mannequin through obstacles that are difficult enough for individuals to navigate, much less a team carrying a loaded stretcher. The team balanced the stretcher while maneuvering over walls and under obstacles, then went zigzagging through an imaginary stream. Tugging and pulling each other over these obstacles, the team quickly learned they had to work as a team. No one individual was going to make it on their own.

Immediately following completion of the outside obstacle course, the team moved inside to a darkened, simulated town street, littered with simulated casualties. They were to locate, move to safety and treat every casualty with simulated smoke, smells and sounds blaring all around them. They were shot at by “enemies” wielding paint guns and returned fire all while evacuating and caring for the wounded. And the simulated wounds weren’t playground scrapes and cuts. Mannequins “bled” from lost limbs, eyes and other traumatic injuries.

The casualty care training lies in stark contrast to the peaceful surroundings of Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth, known in some circles as the “Intellectual Home of the Army.” Here at Fort Leavenworth, war is trained more as an exercise in strategizing and thinking, followed by decision-making and planning. Military operations are largely accomplished via computer simulation. It is understandable and necessary that the more senior an officer leader becomes their training necessarily focuses on planning and executing large scale operations. And computerized war games allow for efficient repetition and practice.

Aug. 26 reminded me that the day-to-day, in the trenches training and fighting of our wars and conflicts is accomplished and exacts its toll largely on teens and the 20- to 30-year-olds of the enlisted ranks. They do the majority of the fighting and immediate care for their wounded comrades on the battlefield. They also learn and grow from these challenges and go on to lead productive and accomplished lives.

I come away from Aug. 26 with a renewed appreciation for the youth of this country who are living and dying for our freedom and way of life – both those in Kabul, around the world and at military installations across our nation.

I was surprised when the teams of soldiers I observed returned for a briefing on their combat casualty care training. The 50-some soldiers had had time to shower and change into their physical fitness uniforms of T-shirts and shorts. I did a double take as they came into view, now stripped of bulky combat uniforms, protective vests and helmets.

One team leader who looked burly and nothing short of 220 pounds in combat gear now appeared as a high school-aged youth of 150 pounds. And women soldiers who were just as tough looking in full combat gear as their male counterparts a few hours ago now looked more like petite college girls in shorts with hair freshly rinsed of dirt and sand, pulled back into neat ponytails and braids. They are the heart and soul of our Army and military – these brave young women and men. They represent the best of our nation.

I will keep them and their willingness to serve, sacrifice and undergo the tremendous mental and physical demands of military life in my daily thoughts and prayers – in my hope for their futures and in my mourning for their loss.

Steven Aude is a research psychologist and lives in Leavenworth.