Navy Medics Experience Military Combat in Chicago County Hospital

Navy medics get battlefield experience because the city 'is not unlike a warzone'

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For decades, the first time Navy medics saw their first gunshot wound was on the battlefield. Not anymore, now they get shipped out… to Chicago.

You read that right. My home town, now gone to H E double-hockey sticks after decades of community organizing by people more interested in sounding good than doing good.

The Windy City is now officially a war zone – replete with injuries and wounds a medic will encounter in actual theaters of war and is the best training for the real thing. Sad, but it is the real thing – the difference being that it is largely Americans killing and maiming each other.

And (don’t tell the Mayor) mostly black Americans perpetuating these horrific crimes against other black Americans. Politicians will say; “it’s a gang thing,” but when a 7-year-old is randomly killed in a drive-by, how can these politicians sleep at night?

Probably on a bed of money.

Chicago has been plagued recently by a spike in violent crimes, the hospital’s trauma unit sees more than its fair share of gunshot wounds, creating an environment not unlike the battlefields of the middle east.

Working in a Chicago hospital is not unlike being in an actual M*A*SH unit because the city suffers the same type of violence and injuries the medic will see in actual wartime conditions. It’s a sad reminder that politicians lack the will to end the carnage – but would rather talk about kid’s walking out of schools to protest law-abiding citizen’s right to arm themselves.

Chicago has a reputation for being more deadly than Afghanistan and the Navy has been hard at work formalizing this program for three years. It rotates newly enlisted hospital corpsmen for six to eight weeks through the Cook County Stroger Hospital’s trauma center. The 14-bed unit treats over 6,000 trauma patients yearly, many of them with penetrating, life-threatening wounds that bear a striking resemblance to those on the battlefield.

And not just gunshots – knifings and a variety of other wounds are in abundance there. Approximately 30 percent of patients at Stroger, on Chicago’s near West Side, are admitted to the trauma ward with wounds from firearms, compared with a national average of 4.2 percent for level 1 trauma centers.

Last year, Stroger Hospital in Cook County treated nearly 600 gunshot victims, more than 260 people with stab wounds and almost 900 people injured in traffic collisions – all categories represented over the July 4 weekend when Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dwight Koontz helped treat a man whose body was riddled with bullet holes.

After helping cut the man’s clothes off, Koontz’s chores included putting little EKG discs on all the bullet holes to help doctors quickly understand what they were up against – an exceedingly tough job given how tiny bullet wounds can be and how much blood can pour out of them. “He had 15 holes in him,” Koontz said of the man, one of dozens of gunshot victims rushed to Stroger during a particularly bloody weekend. “It took about two hours for us to get him stable enough to get him to surgery.” The man survived, he said.

“Corpsmen are not routinely exposed to trauma or critically injured patients during their first assignments,” said Defense Department spokeswoman Maj. Carla Gleason. This “realistic, hands-on trauma training will allow them to hone their skills and increase their readiness.” There’s nothing like hands-on, real world experience for medics. They learn how to scrub in before entering an operating theater and how to operate a range of machinery, including suction machines for patients who are losing blood.

After two days of intense training, they are then fully immersed in the trauma unit’s team of doctors and surgeons and are expected to help with procedures during the trauma unit’s busiest shift from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.

When in a combat zone, Navy corpsmen often operate independently. This type of immersion helps them learn protocol and procedures in a large hospital so they can later replicate that in the field. It will save lives during combat and in Chicago as well.

“A lot of it is here’s your training, you learn, it gets drilled in into your head — then it’s just go,” said Andrew Swain, a 26 year-old corpsman who has served as a medic in Iraq. During that deployment, in his first “mass-casualty incident,” he and just a handful of other medics had to treat about eight injured at the same time, all with traumatic injuries. You learn to suck it up fast and make life and death decisions on the fly.


A week into their training, the corpsmen have seen multiple patients come in with gaping bullet hole wounds. Corpsman Konrad Poplawski, 22, is among the medics being trained at the hospital before his first deployment. In his first week he saw multiple patients with gunshot wounds and one patient with a traumatic eye injury sustained after a motorcycle he was working on blew up in his face. He said his rotation at the hospital ‘has prepared me to deal with worse things out in the field’.

‘I’ll be the only one out there, so I’ll have to learn from this,’ he said.

Maybe catch a Cub game Sir. Thank-you for your service.


Rodney Lee


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