Why shoot pigs to train combat medics?
The 943rd Rescue Squadron's specialty is flying into danger to rescue troops and civilians in trouble
Reporter: Craig Smith
Is it vital training or animal cruelty?
An Air Force Reserve rescue unit, based at Davis-Monthan trains hard to rescue people in trouble but the idea of them practicing combat medic skills by shooting or cutting live pigs has some people outraged.
The idea is if you want to try to save a living, breathing being from combat wounds, you need to practice on something living and breathing.
That's why the training calls for live animals to be wounded, perhaps with guns, and other weapons.
But critics ask if hurting animals really gives you good training after all.
The 943rd Rescue Squadron makes a specialty of flying into danger to save lives. Rescue crews from the 943rd and units like it are revered in the military for getting people out of trouble, even if it means flying into enemy fire.
Besides flying skills, they need medical skills. That's where pigs come in.
They are to be used to simulate combat wounds so medics can practice life saving skills on real living tissue.
The pigs will be sedated, but then may be shot, cut, or wounded other ways.
No one's questioning the need to prep medics to save lives in battle, but activists question whether hurting and killing animals is the best way to do it.
Doctor John Pippin of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says animals are so different from people, that medics learn more from modern simulators like the cut suit which a live person can wear.
Doctor Pippin says, "It allows for interaction with a live patient and compared to an unconscious, anesthetized animal, given that you can cut into the cut suit and it replicates human tissues, it's much more realistic. That they have in previous settings to use garden shears to cut off the leg of a goat or to fire weapons into a pig or set an animal on fire."
Arizona State Senator Frank Antenori was a combat medic with the Army Green Berets. He says he was involved in the development of the cut suit and feels simulators like it are very useful for training but there's still no substitute for the experience---and the pressure of working to keep a living thing alive.
Antenori says, "And the sense of urgency in providing the treatment as rapidly and effectively as possible that there is no replacement for that especially in the combat medic world and that's why it's used to widely because it is such a valuable tool for the psychological effect of a medic treating a live patient."
Frank Antenori says it would be a waste to use animals early in training so they are usually used only after a medic has trained extensively on simulators.
The Department of Defense does direct training programs to use alternates to animals when they can, but a DOD spokesperson says there are still some situations where there is no substitute for training with live animals.