Aussie soldiers get stark Afghan training

Sunday, May 27, 2012 - 16


SOLDIERS heading into Afghanistan conclude their final training with a confronting and ultra-realistic reminder of what can go wrong.

In a darkened tent, with strobe lights, swirling smoke and a soundtrack of loud gunfire adding to the confusion, they encounter a mannequin in Australian camouflage uniform with both lower legs blown off by an insurgent improvised explosive device (IED).

They must then drag the casualty out of the line of fire and then apply lifesaving combat first aid, all to the satisfaction of their instructors, a group of former military medics, some with a background in special forces.

Among the instructors is John Walter, of Melbourne, a former Special Air Service Regiment medic and veteran of three tours, of Afghanistan.

He said the aim was to prepare Australian personnel to treat combat casualties under circumstances where they may still be under insurgent fire.

"Military medicine is certainly evolving. Previously, first aid courses were just about putting on a bandage, putting on a triangle bandage, putting on a splint," he said.

"Now we integrate the tactical component with the treatment and care of the battle casualty."

The end result is that personnel, even those with limited first aid training, go into Afghanistan with renewed confidence in their ability to apply potentially lifesaving care in the crucial period between the incident and evacuation.

This training, provided through the private company Aspen Medical, routinely gains top marks from the soldiers, with some declaring it the best medical training they've ever received.

The four days of pre-deployment training is conducted at the Australian support base in the United Arab Emirates and is known by its excruciating military acronym as RSO and I (reception, staging, onward forwarding and integration).

As important as is combat first aid, equally important is not getting blown up in the first place.

The course includes extensive training in IED awareness, with soldiers walking around a special course looking for the telltale signs left by insurgents who have emplaced IEDs.

Instructor, Leading Seaman Kevin Paul, a navy clearance diver, said insurgent IEDs posed the major threat to troops in Afghanistan.

"They can put them anywhere and they use anything to make them. Sometimes they can't be seen. They are not that easy to find," he said.

"We teach them to look out for different sorts of indicators, possible giveaways, that sort of thing."