The blood and guts are disturbing on their own, but what really churns the stomach are the sounds.
The sickening crunch of bones breaking under the pressure of hedge trimmers, the moans, and the joking and whistling of U.S. Coast Guard personnel as they spill the innards of still-breathing animals. This is documentation of a "live tissue training," an educational course for military medics that uses animals — usually goats and pigs — to simulate wounded soldiers.
The video was released by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in April 2012. Leaked by a concerned secret informant who filmed it in Virginia, it caused uproar among activists and government officials alike. It may have prompted the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act requirement that the military set a timeline by March to largely phase out the use of live animals in such training exercises.
Fort Carson spokesperson Maj. Earl Brown calls the PETA video "kind of horrifying." It's different when Fort Carson does LTT, he insists: "We do not torture or mutilate these animals in any way."
But Brown isn't going to apologize for the post using animals in its training, even as recently as last week at Camp Red Devil in Penrose. LTT is important preparation for the battlefield, he says, "because it allows the soldiers to deal with the stress of trying to stop the bleeding."
Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations for PETA, says his organization has been fighting LTT for three decades. Along the way, members have heard of animals being stabbed, shot, dismembered, set on fire, and strapped to small explosives.
The government requires that the animals be properly anesthetized before being injured, and humanely euthanized afterward; Goodman says that doesn't always happen. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited government contractor Tier 1 Group LLC for violating the Animal Welfare Act by improperly anesthetizing the goats in PETA's outrageous video — its second such violation.
It's worth noting that the citation didn't prevent Tier 1 from getting a $1.7 million government contract in May to perform more trainings — a move that outraged 11 congressional representatives, who formally called for an investigation in September. (The Department of Defense is looking into the matter.)
Federal regulations require that alternatives to animals "be considered and used whenever possible ... if such alternative methods produce scientifically or educationally valid or equivalent results." But PETA claims the rule has been ignored and that the government kills around 10,000 animals each year in LTT.
These days, the military can purchase life-like dummies that feature veins and arteries that "bleed." In August 2012, the scientific journal Military Medicine published a study of physicians and paramedics in the Israel Defense Forces who were trained in battlefield medical procedures using patients, dummies or LTT. Following the training, participants were asked how confident they felt about their skills. According to an abstract, "Manikin and supervised and unsupervised patient experience exhibited positive associations with self-confidence, but (animal) model experience did not."
Goodman co-authored another 2012 study in Military Medicine stating that 22 of 28 member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization use other training methods instead of LTT. The paper also noted that virtual reality and cadavers may be options in some cases.
"The military sets this up as a false dichotomy," Goodman says. "It's not a choice between saving animals or saving human beings."
Not real enough
The military does use the high-tech dummies at times, and Brown has had a chance to work with them in the past. But he says in his experience nothing compares to the real thing.
"It's so much different, sticking through a rubber plastic training body than it is when you're actually sticking a live patient," he says.
He also estimates that using dummies is about "eight times" more expensive than using animals.
Brown emphasizes that during Carson exercises, trained vets anesthetize the animals — which, on Jan. 16 and 17, were locally sourced goats. Trained medics then use scalpels to make incisions, and medics in training are instructed on how to stop the bleeding. There are no explosives or hedge trimmers involved, he says.
Brown says LTT helped him to react effectively overseas when Iraqi civilians were injured by an IED in front of him. He calls the experience of applying tourniquets "agonizing because you don't want to cause any more harm than is necessary to save a life"; having performed such first aid on a live body before was invaluable, he says.
At Brown's suggestion, the Indy also called Army Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan for further information on why the military believes LTT is valuable. She didn't return repeated phone calls before deadline.
Carson spokesperson Loran Doane, however, notes that effective training is important, since nearly 86 percent of deaths occur on the battlefield. He says the Army is looking into a variety of other training techniques but says, "[U]ntil there are validated alternatives, the experience and confidence gained by the use of live animals in teaching life-saving procedures must remain a viable training method."