Army trains elite soldiers using wilderness medicine

The training teaches troops how to create a fully functioning medical system in a remote location


FORT CARSON, Colo. — The U.S. Army is part of the evolving field of wilderness medicine and offers opportunities for soldiers who have an interest and expertise in both medicine and the outdoors to pursue a challenging and unique career path. The Madigan Army Medical Center became the first medical treatment facility in the Department of the Defense (DoD) to offer a one-year Austere and Wilderness Medicine Fellowship. Maj. Hunter Winegarner, MD, a Special Forces Battalion surgeon stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., completed this Fellowship in 2014, which prepared him to treat and train the Army's elite soldiers.

"I've married my passion for the outdoors and physical activity with medicine," said Winegarner. "I like to call it 'Macgyvering' medicine – using the medical expertise we have to create a fully functioning medical system with limited resources and access in a remote location."

Along with medical care, Maj. Winegarner conducts operational trainings and simulations, and manages his battalion's soldiers and medical practitioners to help prepare them to treat injuries and/or illnesses during missions in the air or austere environments. Example training sessions may include a high-angle rope rescue in rough or elevated terrain or the treatment of Acute Mountain Sickness, which can impact soldiers who frequently ascend and descend various altitudes during missions.

Based on insights gleaned from training sessions and patient care, Maj. Winegarner advises his commander on the potential health and medical issues that could arise during missions and particularly any limitations for certain soldiers.

In his primary role, Maj. Winegarner works at the 10th Group Special Forces Clinic and provides routine patient care for his unit during difficult airborne and field training exercises.

"Our clinic recently moved to a Soldier Centered Medical Home model, which means it's a one-stop shop for medical care: the exam rooms, treatment rooms, physical therapy area, labs and the pharmacy are all in one area," said Winegarner. "This model enables us to take care of our patients, allowing them to conveniently access multiple services and have continuity of care."

The way the clinic is run requires Maj. Winegarner and his colleagues to wear multiple hats as medical professionals and trainers. "The pace and variety of work keeps me engaged, and at the end of the day, I like taking care of soldiers," added Winegarner.

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