FORT DETRICK, Md. (March 1, 2010) -- Every time a servicemember is killed or wounded in combat, it sets off a sweeping process aimed at identifying what happened, who perpetrated it and how it might have been prevented -- and instituting changes to reduce the likelihood of it being repeated.

The Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program brings together experts within the Defense Department's medical, operational, intelligence and material development communities, who analyze each casualty to glean life-saving lessons, explained Lt. Col. Mark Dick, the program manager.

They study autopsy information, pore through after-action reports and medical files, assess vehicle damage reports and ballistic studies and conduct computer models and simulations to replicate and confirm operational events.

The goal, Dick said, is to identify vulnerabilities and give decision-makers the concrete findings they need to help shore them up.

The JTAPIC program stood up in 2007 to tap into the full spectrum of expertise across the department to mitigate combat risk. The Army serves as the executive agent, with the program office based at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md.

Although leaders may have a hunch about what caused a catastrophic incident, Dick said the JTAPIC analyses provide a scientific assessment that addresses the myriad factors involved.

"If you make a decision based on just one subset of the data, you don't always come to the appropriate conclusion," he said. "We take everything from medical data to threat data to [data about the] operational environment, and we integrate those into analysis products."

JTAPIC analyses have revealed everything from the need to change tactics, techniques and procedures, to modify weapons systems and how they're used, to provide better force protection and medical care for wounded troops, he said.

They've sparked changes in the way the military operates, the equipment it purchases and the protections it provides its troops.

Some findings get passed directly to commanders on the ground, who in some cases can introduce immediate changes to reduce their troops' vulnerability to enemy threats, Dick said.

In other cases, the analyses lead to longer-term changes that impact the broader military community. They can result in doctrinal changes that guide military operations or the warfighter training programs.

They also can impact weapons systems -- how they're designed, what capabilities they have and what force protections they include. Rather than making specific recommendations to program managers, Dick's team provides analyses to help program managers in their acquisition decisions.

Dick acknowledges that the true impact of the program is hard to quantify, because it's largely measured in injuries prevented and lives saved rather than lost.

"We don't always see the success stories, where there was an incident and Soldiers, because of the protective systems that have been incorporated, have walked away," he said. "In some cases, they may have been treated at the platoon level, or immediately gone back to the fight, and we never hear about it."

But Dick has little doubt that the JTAPIC program is making a difference for troops on the front lines -- and will continue to benefit tomorrow's servicemembers as well.

"Let me suffice it to say that what we're doing is limiting the number of lost lives, and it's also limiting the severity of injuries," he said. "This effort has increased Soldier survivability, and the safety of our combat systems."

Dick praised the commitment of JTAPIC partners, who, by leveraging existing programs and infrastructure, have provided a critical new capability. "It's been a success story in itself," he said.