If a major disaster takes place in the Tampa area this weekend, the region will be as well positioned as possible to cope.
About 1,200 of the world’s top special operations medical professionals, first responders and others experienced with combat trauma and mass casualty situations will be on hand for the 24th annual Special Operations Medical Association’s (SOMA) Tampa Scientific Assembly, being held at the Tampa Convention Center Dec. 14-17.
SOMA “is the only medical association in the world that brings together the unique blend of pre-hospital, tactical, wilderness, austere, disaster and deployed medicine,” according to the association’s website.
“Our primary goal is to advance the art and science of special operations medical care through the education and professional development of special operations medical providers. SOMA provides a forum for military and civilian medical providers, academia and industry from around the world to meet and exchange ideas” at the assembly.
“The ultimate goal is to bring more special operations forces warriors home, and we do that,” says Army Lt. Col. Robert Mabry, the association president, and a doctor who runs the Master Medicine Fellowship Training Program at Ft. Sam Houston, “We do that by improving the practice of special operations medicine, advancing concepts, synchronizing best practices and lessons learned across the force, accelerating the learning and improvement of care.”
Mabry cites the now-stardardized use of tourniquets as one of the great advances made by special operations forces medics, who saw that stopping the loss of blood was critical in saving lives.
“The concept of tactical combat casualty care started in special operations,” says Mabry. “Special operations forces are often farther forward and so special operations medicine has pushed the envelope as far as concepts go. It’s proven and often adopted for the conventional Army and Navy.”
But it’s not just the troops that benefit, says Mabry.
Medical techniques and lessons learned on the battlefield are becoming increasingly important at home, says Mabry.
“Just like new medical concepts for conventional forces evolved out of special operations, the same thing is true with our tactical emergency medical system personnel,” he says. “For folks who deal with acts of terrorism back home, battlefield care principals are translatable to mass casualty incidents.”
Situations like the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are putting first responders into battlefield-like conditions where they are dealing with “military-style weapons,” says Mabry, like improvised explosive devices and high-powered rifles.
Though first responders routinely train for mass casualty situations, it’s not something they encounter in the field regularly.
For them, the Tampa assembly is a good learning experience, says Mabry.
One of the big differences between civilian and military tactical medicine is the initial response, says Mabry.
“Civilian trauma care is based on common civilian injury patterns such as those seen in automobile accidents whereas military trauma is caused mostly by explosions and gunshot wounds,” he says.
The assembly opens up Saturday morning at 8 a.m. with a welcoming speech by Mabry and, over the four days will tackle a wide array of topics, with sessions ranging from “The Future of Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict...”, “Preventable Death in Special Operations Forces - Suicide,” and “Boston Marathon Bombing.”
There are sessions on how to treat specific injuries, how to deal with certain situations and several that deal with the role of special operations forces beyond firing weapons.
In addition to being called upon to stage raids like the one that killed Bin Laden, commandos are often on the front lines of natural disaster relief, and providing medical aid around the world for people and animals.
That’s addressed in sessions like “Historical Perspective regarding SOF Role in Global Health Engagement, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response” and “Health in COIN (Counter-Insurgency) and Stability Operations.”
The assembly is open to the public, but registration is required. For more information, and to register, go to https://community.specialoperationsmedicine.org/login/index.php.