Sunday, June 18, 2006

Supporting the Troops

Still a little too fried to come up with much in the way of posts, but I'd like to point you to an article that will break your heart and raise your blood-pressure. Via Larry Johnson at No Quarter comes this lengthy piece in the Washington Post that lays out in agonizing detail how the war planners failed American soldiers by issuing inadequate and faulty equipment. This goes so far beyond improperly armored Humvees that it reaches a level of gross incompetence and negligence that can only be called criminal. I will quote just one incident that occurred in the course of an attack on unarmored Humvees - it is beyond horrific:
As the Humvee hurtled forward, Sams fell out the left side opening where a door should have been. As he tumbled, his armored vest snagged on the front left wheel well. He was dragged, still conscious, 25 yards, until the driverless Humvee struck the berm, then rolled backward, pinning Sams's left arm beneath the wheel...

...Sams tried to pull his arm free. It wouldn't budge. He swung his legs around, placed both feet in the wheel well and pushed, trying to lift the 1 1/4-ton vehicle off his arm. No go. Sams rolled on to his side and stretched out his legs, testing to see if he could reach one foot inside the Humvee and hit the gas. "Stuff you basically know you can't do," Sams recalls. "I was trying to save my arm."

Desperate, Sams called out in the dark that his arm was pinned and he needed someone to drive the Humvee off him. A lone figure appeared around the back of the Humvee. It was too dark for Sams to make out who it was. Maybe an insurgent, in which case he was dead. Sams watched the large silent figure lurch around the truck, struggle to climb in the driver's side opening, fail and fall down. Again, the figure tried to climb into the Humvee, and again he fell. Four times he tried and fell, Sams recalls. On the fifth attempt, the figure climbed into the driver's seat and reversed the Humvee off Sams's arm. Then the man collapsed and tumbled out of the Humvee onto the dirt field.

Sams tried to stand to go to his rescuer but fell forward; that's when he realized he had broken his ankle. He fell close enough to his rescuer to recognize him at last. It was Bernstein: Super Dave. "I asked him where he was hit," Sams recalls. "He said, 'My leg.'" Sams, who had taken a 2 1/2-day course in basic combat first aid, patted Bernstein's left leg until he felt dampness. "I found his entrance and exit wound," Sams says. "My fingers went in as I was patting him up." The insurgents' machine-gun fire had easily pierced the thin skin of their unarmored vehicle and struck Bernstein above the left knee...

...Sams went back to kneel beside his lieutenant. "My pants legs were instantly covered, drenched in blood," Sams says. The bullet had severed Bernstein's femoral artery. The lieutenant was going to bleed to death if they didn't tie a tourniquet around his leg fast. But they hadn't been issued tourniquets.

Eight months earlier, a committee of military medical experts had urged the Pentagon to give every soldier in the war a tourniquet. Bleeding to death from an arm or leg wound is the most common cause of preventable death in combat, the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care reported. Quick access to a cheap, simple modern tourniquet could save many lives, military doctors had concluded. Yet it would be two more years before the U.S. Central Command, which runs combat operations in Iraq, adopted a policy saying all soldiers in combat should carry a tourniquet. Even then, the policy was moot because the Army didn't widely distribute tourniquets for several more months. An investigation by the Baltimore Sun spurred that distribution and documented one reason for the delay: Military procurement specialists were studying what kind of pouch to carry the new first aid kits with tourniquets in.

That left Sams, in October 2003, in much the same position as a soldier on a Revolutionary War battlefield: trying to improvise a tourniquet with a length of cloth and a stick. Only Sams couldn't find a stick in the Iraqi field.

"I was looking for anything hard," Sams recalls. He and Williams found a fuel-can nozzle in the Humvee. Sams wrapped a fresh field dressing around Bernstein's leg and used the gas nozzle to try to twist the dressing tightly enough to staunch the arterial bleed. As Sams twisted, the strings on the field dressing broke.

Desperate, Sams cut the strap off an M4 rifle and tried again. The strap didn't break, but it was too short. It kept coming untwisted, Sams says. So he tied a dressing on top of his improvised tourniquet to keep it in place. Bernstein still had a pulse, but he'd stopped moaning, Sams says.

Sams didn't have time to feel relieved when he finally spied his platoon leader and a few other soldiers -- a scouting party from the convoy -- walking toward their crash site. He checked the lieutenant's neck and could no longer find a pulse, he says. He tried to perform CPR, but with his wounded arm couldn't apply much pressure. He let one of the newly arrived soldiers take over. Sams leaned against the Humvee, exhausted, and watched a sad succession of privates and officers pound Bernstein's chest long past knowing their efforts were futile. Roughly an hour after the attack on the convoy, a Blackhawk helicopter arrived to evacuate Bernstein and Sams, according to interviews and records.

Sams, now a long-haul truck driver, never regained the feeling in his left arm. Bernstein, one of West Point's finest, a genuine hero educated for military brilliance at a cost of more than $400,000 to taxpayers, died without a $20 tourniquet.

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