Charlotte, N.C. – During EMS Week 2017, I had the good fortune to attend the Special Operations Medical Association’s 2017 Scientific Assembly (SOMA SA) held at Charlotte Convention Center.
Picture a conference filled with camouflage and dress uniforms. Medics and medical teams from the US Army “Green Berets” and Rangers; US Navy SEALS; US Air Force Pararescue; US Coast Guard Tactical Teams, and other “special operators” from NATO partner forces across the globe coming together for medical learning and information sharing. Military nurses, PAs, physicians/surgeons, clinical researchers and even representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were also in attendance.
Other participants included federal, regional, state and local police, fire and EMS special operations and tactical team members from across the US and, in smaller numbers, from other nations, including the UK, Germany, Denmark, Australia and South Korea.
Presenters were not people telling “war stories,” but highly trained and remarkably experienced “quiet professionals” sharing no-nonsense, high-value lessons learned from active combat settings and other high-risk environments domestically and across the entire globe.
Resuscitation in hostile environments, battle zone ultrasound, prolonged field care, fresh whole blood (FWB) transfusion & freeze dried plasma (FDP), field acupuncture, procedural sedation and field “surgery,” “ShadowBox” cognitive skills training, human performance & resiliency, as well as infectious disease and mental health care were just a small sampling of the subject matter discussed in detail.
Presentations on K-9 emergency care and transport, prolonged field-based medical care for wounded soldiers and civilians, IEDs and bomb carrying enemy drones, single medics operating improvised civilian medical clinics in urban and remote active combat zones, medical care under fire, lifesaving care “in the dark” using only night vision goggles and very limited supplies all added to the recognition that the SOMA scientific assembly represents the true “tip of the spear” in field, aeromedical and global military and tactical-based emergency medical care.
In addition to actual hands-on care, the SOMA scientific assembly provided incredible insights into global “hot spots.” For example, spot endemic and newly emerging population-level epidemics were discussed. Importantly – one did not need to spend much time at SOMA’s SA before hearing about the need for a host of little known immunizations and specialty education and training before operating in remote, isolated locations across the globe.
Participating in SOMA SA was a personal reminder that in austere and tactical environments, the knowledge, skills and the equipment one can carry represents the total sum of initial – and often longer term – care engagement. However, in many cases – the near proximity of aeromedical assets also often plays a key role in survivability until rapid delivery to a trauma-services field hospital or fixed location.
I am proud to have represented the JEMS at SOMA SA and, even more so, to have been in the presence of so many truly amazing and dedicated professionals who embody the ranks of military and civilian-based special operations teams across the globe.