Modern Warfare: The Unique Experience of OIF/OEF Veterans

Veterans across generations can speak of the commonalities of war. Across time, many aspects remain consistent: uncertainty, violence, chaos and death among them. War takes a toll on its combatants, physically, mentally and emotionally. Despite many similarities to previous conflicts, experiences faced during and following combat for Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) Veterans are different from those faces by veterans of previous conflicts.

Battlefield Tactics

The nature of the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is non-traditional compared to the warfighting of the historical linear battlefield. Conflict occurs in urban areas and sometimes involves civilian combatants, including women and children. A high percentage of injuries are inflicted by blasts from car bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The most prevalent physical injuries include: limb amputation, burns, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and spinal cord injuries.

In January of 2014, the Department of Defense reported the number Wounded in Action (WIA) exceeded 51,000 persons. The prevalence of reported PTSD exceeded 118,000 persons. The reported instances of TBI were over 287,000.

An All-Volunteer Force

In contrast to previous conflicts, many service members served multiple combat tours. The all-volunteer force of the U.S. military comprises less than 1% of the population. Over the duration of 11+ years, many conducted repeated tours in combat zones.

Medical Technology

Combat medicine and technology has made remarkable advances and developments in recent years. This has increased the number of lives saved, but has also increased the number of service members that experience and survive catastrophic wounds. In previous conflicts, wounds of such severity would have resulted in death. The number and severity of veterans that survive injury is significantly higher than previous conflicts. In the Vietnam conflict, the ratio of service members wounded was under three for every one person killed. With advances in science and technology, this number has increased to 15 people wounded for every one person killed in combat.

Improvements in protective gear including body armor, ballistic helmets and armored vehicles have increased the survival rate to nearly 90% for OIF/OEF service members. Improvements in combat medicine and rapid evacuation to appropriative levels of care has also aided in the increased survival rate.

Veteran Connection blogs are written by ACI’s very own Clinical Manager, Megan Hawker, MA, IMF #65325; Major, Medical Service Corps; US Army Reserves

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