A Comparison of Injury Patterns and Interventions among US Military Special Operations Versus Conventional Forces Combatants

Med J (Ft Sam Houst Tex). 2023 Jan-Mar;(Per 23-1/2/3):64-69.


BACKGROUND: Over the course of the US’ Global War on Terrorism, its military has utilized both conventional and special operations forces (SOF). These entities have sustained and treated battlefield casualties in the prehospital, Role 1 setting, while also making efforts to mitigate risks to the force and pursuing improved interventions. The goal of this study is to compare outcomes and prehospital medical interventions between SOF and conventional military combat casualties.

METHODS: This is a secondary analysis of previously published data from the Department of Defense Trauma Registry. The casualties were categorized as special operations if they were 18-series, Navy SEAL, Pararescue Jumper, Tactical Air Control Party, Combat Controller, and Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance. The remainder with a documented military occupational specialty (MOS) were classified as conventional forces.

RESULTS: Within our dataset, a MOS was categorizable for 1806 conventional and 130 special operations. Conventional forces were younger age (24 versus 30, p is less than 0.001). Conventional forces had a higher proportion of explosive injuries (61% versus 44%) but a lower proportion of firearm injuries (22% versus 42%, p is less than 0.001). The median injury severity scores were similar between the groups. Conventional forces had lower rates of documentation for all metrics: pulse, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, Glasgow Coma Scale, and pain score. On adjusted analyses, SOF had higher odds of receiving an extremity splint, packed red blood cells, whole blood, tranexamic acid, ketamine, and fentanyl.

CONCLUSION: SOF had consistently better medical documentation rates, more use of ketamine and fentanyl, less morphine administration, and lower threshold for use of blood products in both unadjusted and adjusted analyses. Our findings suggest lessons learned from the SOF medics should be extrapolated to the conventional forces for improved medical care.


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