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April 19, 2016

Medic soldiers learn to use ultrasound designed for battlefield

The Fayetteville Observer

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Maj. Jonathan D. Monti points to a large black blob in the middle of a screen.

There's the gallbladder, he said, showing the soldier holding an ultrasound probe how to get a better image of the organ.

As Monti teaches, Fort Bragg soldiers are gathered at three other ultrasound machines, performing similar searches on volunteers lying on litters.

He backs away from the machine, leaving the lesson in the hands of the soldier he just instructed.

"Now you show them," Monti said.

Monti is a physician assistant and director of the emergency medicine physician assistant residency program at Madigan Army Medical Center. He is at Fort Bragg for a two-day introductory course, teaching mostly soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

The soldiers have had their own portable ultrasound machine  a little larger than a laptop  for several months. The machines use sound waves to create images of the inside of a person. While standard in hospitals, the machines are largely unknown to paratroopers.

Officials said they hope to change that.

"From a medical perspective, it's a force multiplier," said Maj. James Falcon, the 1st Brigade surgeon.

Falcon said the brigade's physician assistants, as well as other medical troops, were taking part in the training to build a foundation for things to come.

As part of the Global Response Force, 1st Brigade needs to be ready to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice. And if it does, there's a good chance it will be far from dedicated medical facilities, at least at the onset of its mission.

Falcon said soldiers can't rely on the larger combat hospitals that were relatively commonplace in Iraq and Afghanistan. They can't assume help is a short helicopter ride away.

An ultrasound machine, while not an exact replacement, gives the soldiers something similar to a CT scan or X-ray machine, he said.

It's already used by soldiers in Special Forces, including the Fort Bragg-based 3rd Special Forces Group, which has trained with the machines at Duke University.

"Our unit is trying to give us maximum capabilities in austere environments," Falcon said. "They are portable and can give us a lot of information."

That information can help soldiers spot internal bleeding, or diagnose fractures or other internal injuries.

Lucky in the past
"We've been lucky the last 10 years. We've been within a half hour to an hour away from help," Falcon said. "We may not have that luxury. This is just another tool to help guide us."

Monti said the two-day course, with a mix of hands-on and classroom training, was meant to introduce the soldiers to the machines. He's conducted similar training at his home station of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He said the Fort Bragg training was his first outside that post.

Monti said medical advancements like the small ultrasound machines can be a game changer on a battlefield, providing a level of care not previously seen.

"The machines have become so much more portable," he said. "Essentially, it provides us with incredible diagnostic capabilities. We can make medical decisions we usually only make in the hospital out in the field."

Copyright 2016 The Fayetteville Observer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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