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In the Line of Fire

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This morning, Government Executive posted a story based upon internal Army briefings that reveal "combat medical units operating in Iraq do not have the proper emergency transport equipment, are lacking in training and have a shortage of critical personnel, including lab technicians who must send medical tests to Germany." As though things weren't bad enough.

Quoted extensively in the story is Dr. Robert Suter, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center -- and a former paramedic himself who, four years back, served as president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

While Army officials refuse to directly comment on the leaked briefings -- especially a section dealing with the performing of emergency cricothyroidotomies, or the placing of an incision in the neck in order to keep a patient breathing -- they insist Army medics in Afghanistan and Iraq have helped record "the best casualty survivability rate in modern history."

Suter, who trained at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio before coming to Dallas, says that, yes, Army surgeons are doing their jobs -- because they're working in combat support hospitals, which aren't directly in harm's way. And because they're better trained than young civilian paramedics who find themselves in the line of fire. "It's easy to say airways can be improved when no one is shooting at you," he says. --Robert Wilonsky

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