Seconds count when saving lives on the battlefield – a lesson hard learned by Ukrainian forces when separatists in Eastern Ukraine tried to break away from the rest of the country.
To staunch the loss of troops and save the lives of wounded soldiers, the Ukrainian army turned to international partners to help develop a combat first aid course. Now, for the first time since fighting began in 2014, the Ukrainian army has taken the lead in teaching the curriculum.
“This training means everything, with [the Ukrainian army] in the ATO they need to be able to keep people alive,” said Sgt. Carey Bennett, an Oklahoma Army National Guardsman from Oklahoma City working alongside the Ukrainian army, using the acronym for the antiterrorism operations area in Eastern Ukraine where fighting flared up again in late January.
Since fighting began in 2014, more than 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the ATO, according to a Ukrainian Museum of Military History website that hosts photos of each fallen soldier and details of their deaths.
By comparison, since 2001, a total of 2,216 U.S. forces have been killed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the U.S. Department of Defense website, as of February 10.
The high number of casualties is something Ukrainian units are trying to curb. To do this, they have been training with Canadian and American units to build the combat first aid course, providing soldiers with the knowledge and confidence to treat both themselves and their fellow soldiers when wounded.
Soldiers learn how to apply tourniquets, pressure bandages and improvised field dressings as part of the combat first aid course. They also learn critical tasks like how to evacuate a casualty while under fire and how to clear the casualty’s airway.
This international training is part of the Joint Multinational Training Group - Ukraine’s mission at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, near Yavoriv, Ukraine. At the IPSC, partners from the U.S., Canada, Lithuania, the U.K. and Poland have come together to help develop various training programs ranging from the combat first aid course to how to conduct air assaults and counter improvised explosive devices.
Battalions from the Ukrainian army rotate through the IPSC for training, and, before January 2017, were directly trained by international partners.
This year, Ukrainian combat training center staff are taking the lead role in training while international partners are taking more of a supporting role, coaching and mentoring the Ukrainian CTC staff rather than providing hands-on training with the rotational battalions.
Spc. Cody Yancey of Norman, Oklahoma, is one of the American medics who is mentoring the Ukrainian CTC medical staff. He said prior to the conflict in the east and the JMTG-U partnership, casualty care was not a priority for Ukrainian troops.
However, after seeing how the training at JMTG-U has improved survivability in the ATO, the Ukrainian army is beginning to doctrinally change and build a professional medical corps.
“They started from the ground up,” Yancey said. “They’ve already instilled a lot of the basics… this is the first rotation where the Ukrainians are taking on their own, bottom to top – start to finish, medical training.”
Yancey said the CTC medical training staff felt confident enough to begin training their own soldiers and organized the training for the Ukrainian army’s 1st Battalion, 28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, which started its training rotation in early February.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Johnson, of Okarche, Oklahoma and the medical platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma Army National Guard – the U.S. unit assigned to the JMTG-U, said completion of the combat first aid course puts these Ukrainian soldiers leaps and bounds ahead of their peers who have not trained with the JMTG-U.
“The training here shows great steps toward saving lives,” Johnson said. “It shows they are willing to take on new things.”
The Ukrainian CTC trainers took the lessons they learned from previous rotations and put together a schedule, developed a training plan, coordinated training lanes without logistical support or back-up from their American medic partners, and tailored the training to fit the needs of the 1-28., Yancey added.
“Now, rather than teaching individual tasks, we are stepping back and the Ukrainians are in the lead and we provide feedback to the instructors,” Yancey said while observing a training event where the CTC staff were teaching companies of the 1-28 how to treat and evacuate casualties under fire. “Any tips, tricks or professionalization we can provide them is why we’re here.”
Many of the CTC staff have spent time in the ATO and understand what units will face if they are deployed there. Intuitional knowledge from experienced soldiers is key to developing the medical training program.
“They know best what they need and want – what saves the most lives,” Yancey said. “They can come back with their own medical NCO corps, medical department and standards and teach the next line of soldiers coming through and take pride in that.”