Slain Soldiers Offer Clues To Protect The Living

Captain Craig T. Mallak is chief of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System

Captain Craig T. Mallak is chief of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. Armed Forces Medical Examiner System hide caption

itoggle caption Armed Forces Medical Examiner System
Skull with embeded ball bearing i i

This CT Scan of a soldier killed in Iraq shows a ball-bearing type device from an IED embedded in the skull. John Getz hide caption

itoggle caption John Getz
Skull with embeded ball bearing

This CT Scan of a soldier killed in Iraq shows a ball-bearing type device from an IED embedded in the skull.

John Getz

In previous wars, fallen soldiers rarely received post-mortem examinations, but that changed in 2001, when the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology began conducting autopsies on all slain service men and women. In 2004, the examinations were expanded to include CT scans.

CT Scans help show the pathway of wounds caused by bullets or shrapnel so that a less invasive autopsy can be conducted. While this improves the work of doctors, the data has a grim upside.

Captain Craig T. Mallak, a pathologist and lawyer who is also the chief of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, describes how the physical and sometimes virtual autopsies of soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan have not only assisted in the design of body armor, helmets and vehicle shields, but medical equipment as well.

One specific example is the recent improvement of chest tubes used by combat medics. By examining 100 Ct Scans and measuring wounds, doctors found that because soldiers were in better shape than civilians, they needed longer tubes and needles to penetrate the chest wall and reach the collapsed lung.

Combat medics now carry the improved equipment on the battlefield.

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