Naval Special Warfare medics are the lifeline of the Navy SEAL and SWCC frontline units. At this level, to be with the best, a medic has to be the best.
The importance of medics in the Navy SEAL community is more pronounced due to the nature of the job. Special operations teams often operate independently and far from support. Their medics have to be able to not only provide triage and first-line care but also prolonged medical care if need be. Consequently, their training has to be top-notch to ensure a well-rounded medic that can stop a hemorrhage but also conduct blood transfusions.
Naval Special Warfare recently launched a new training cell that takes a holistic approach to combat medicine and provides an advanced course to its medics. The Tactical Medical Cell (TMC) offers a course to independent Duty Corpsmen (IDC), Navy SEALs, and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen. The course, aside from its combat utility, also comes at a lighter price tag.
Commander Levi Kitchen, the TMC Training Director, said in a press release that “to my knowledge, there is no training like this within NSW that is organically sourced amongst Department of Defense (DoD) components. There are courses similar to this, but they are generally contracted out with a heavy price tag. Though labor intensive for the NSWG-1 [Naval Special Warfare Group 1] TMC, we provide advanced training for a fraction of the cost.”
The week-long course focuses on Tactical Casualty Combat Care (TCCC) and Prolonged Field Care (PFC). It’s held at the BioSkills & Simulation Training Center of the Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD).
During the first three days of the course, students practice TCCC and PFC in labs and attend lectures by experts on fields such as trauma surgery, orthopedic surgery, emergency medicine, otolaryngology, anesthesia, and general surgery. The fourth day they get to test their skills in a realistic scenario. The finals days go over the administrative side of the job.
Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Noel Sons, the tactical medical lead at the TMC, said that the capstone event on the fourth day provides simulated environments “in order to fully immerse the students and allow them to use the skills and training received throughout the course. Environments range from naval vessels and a crashed helicopter to a medical trauma center. Realism is added with explosions, sounds of gunfire, and role-players that utilize prosthetics and fake blood to simulate realistic combat injuries.”
Like other special operators, SEAL and SWCC medics have mastered more than one specialty. A medic in a SEAL platoon, for example, can also be a qualified sniper or Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC). The ability to have operators trained in more than one specialty makes the unit far more flexible and effective. For instance, if need be, a SEAL platoon of 16 operators can split into two squads of 8.
To become a special operations medic, a SEAL or SWCC operator must complete the Special Operations Tactical Medic (SOTM) course. SOTM is a 28-week course split into four phases. The course covers everything and anything related to TCCC and PFC, including IV Therapy, Dive Medicine, Prehospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS), and Trauma, Airway, and Patient Assessment, among other skillsets.
Every two years, SEAL and SWCC medics have to attend a SOTM refresher course to ensure relevancy. SOTM is also a fairly new course. Before its introduction, Naval Special Warfare medics attended the Army’s Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) course, which is arguably the best course on combat medicine in the world.
And here’s an interesting tidbit: SEAL officer, medical doctor, and NASA astronaut Lieutenant Johnny Kim began his career in the SEAL Teams as a medic.