WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- Hemorrhage control is the No. 1 thing you can do to save lives on the battlefield, according to Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West.
"Stop the bleeding as soon as you can, and stop it as much as you can," said West, who serves as surgeon general of the Army and commander of the Army Medical Command. She spoke here on Thursday, Aug. 18, at a meeting of the Defense Writer's Group.
One of the latest advances in treating hemorrhaging on the battlefield, West said, is what is known as the "junctional tourniquet," which can be applied to wounds in ways not possible with conventional tourniquets.
Traditionally, a medic or fellow Soldier can apply a tourniquet just to a person's limb, she explained. A traditional tourniquet cannot be used to stop hemorrhaging in the abdomen, chest, groin, waist, pelvis or armpit.
Developed at Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Dietrich, Maryland, the junctional tourniquet is essentially a belt with one or more inflatable air bladders that can be puffed up, somewhat like a blood pressure cuff, to apply pressure to a wound.
The device can be deployed to stop hemorrhaging in about 60 seconds.
The junctional tourniquet is now being fielded to Soldiers in harm's way, but it's so new -- just months since fielding -- that West hasn't yet been briefed on how many lives it has saved, though she believes the number will be significant over time.
The new tourniquet is currently being fielded only to medical personnel, though it may in the future become available to line troops, she said.
In developing the design for the new tourniquet, Army medical personnel visited the port mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, to examine the remains of Soldiers who didn't make it. They also examined the body armor they had worn.
"Were there things missing in the body armor? Were their gaps? Were there recurring injuries in a particular spot?" West said, describing the kinds of questions medical personnel asked themselves.
Another capability developed as a result of the same research but which has been around for some time now, she said, is the ballistic undergarment, which can lessen damage sustained in a blast, such as that of an IED.
The protective gear doesn't just protect genitalia, she said, it also protects the large arteries and vessels found in the groin area that, if damaged, could result in substantial hemorrhaging.
Conventional tourniquets have a long history in the Army and in the medical community.
While tourniquets were used in World War II and the Civil War, the medical community, including medical practitioners in the Army, for a long time remained concerned that their use could cause limb damage.
Concerns also involved the effects of improper placement of tourniquets and the effects of extended use.
"We got away from tourniquets for a while," West said.
But during recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the use of conventional tourniquets saved many lives, she said. Proper tourniquet use, and proper training for first responders, remains key to ensuring their effective and safe use.
One case in point of how conventional tourniquets can save lives is the story of Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, who lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007. West said Gadson attributes his survival to a fellow Soldier who applied tourniquets to his limbs.