Every year, the military spends millions on shooting, stabbing and dismembering more than 10,000 live animals in crude medical training drills even though more humane, effective and economical training methods exist. The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2013 actually requires for the first time that the Department of Defense send a plan to Congress to phase-out these cruel exercises in favor of clinical methods and sophisticated simulation tools, many of which the agency has already stockpiled but underuses.
These expensive, live animal trauma exercises — like those exposed in a disturbing PETA undercover investigation last year that captured a Coast Guard course in which a cheerfully whistling instructor cuts the legs off semiconscious goats with tree trimmers—cost thousands of dollars per trainee, bear no resemblance to real battlefield conditions and don’t help save human lives.
During my seven years of active duty as a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman, including as a member of United States Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan's Special Medical Operations Response Team, I never trained on a single live animal. My comprehensive training in the Navy included a wide range of methods including clinical works with real patients, immersive drills with human actors and lifelike simulators that the military owns and could be using more widely.
Unlike pigs and goats, simulators replicate human anatomy and physiology and are more cost-effective because they’re reusable, shareable and don’t require the extensive resources associated with constantly purchasing thousands of animals and providing them with federally-regulated transportation, housing, oversight and veterinary treatment.
Last year, PETA and U.S. military doctors — including a decorated Army surgeon who has served two tours in Iraq and a former commander of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth — published a study in the leading U.S. military medical journal showing that 22 out of 28 NATO nations do not use any animals for military medical training. The Army's Rascon School of Combat Medicine uses only non-animal methods for training medical personnel and has publicly stated that "[t]raining on [simulators] is more realistic to providing care for a person than training on animals."
These decisions to forego animal use are justified by more than a decade's worth of studies conducted by military and civilian trauma experts that show that lifelike simulators — the best of which "breathe," "bleed," and are made of artificial human skin, fat and muscle — better equip trainees with the technical skills and psychological preparedness necessary to treat traumatic injuries in humans. Indeed, in a 2009 internal e-mail obtained by PETA, a deputy surgeon with U.S. Army Europe candidly admitted to colleagues that "there still is no evidence that [trauma training on animals] saves lives."
Immediately cutting this wasteful, outdated and cruel animal use program is an easy way for the armed forces to responsibly trim their budget, fulfill the requirements of the NDAA, improve troop preparedness and save animals’ lives.
Freeman is a media coordinator for PETA, www.PETA.org, and a former Navy hospital corpsman.