Retired Maj. Gen. Philip Volpe discusses Battle of Mogadishu combat medical care
By Kathleen Tyler, 779th Medical Support Squadron
/ Published June 01, 2017
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
Many people are familiar with the Battle of Mogadishu due to the film "Black Hawk Down." During the October 1993 battle, a Ranger Task Force was dropped into the city of Mogadishu to capture Somali militia warlords. A prolonged firefight ensued, leading to the loss of many lives and the destruction of two Black Hawk helicopters. However, most don’t know of the medics who served alongside the Ranger Task Force and provided emergency medical care.
Retired Maj. Gen. Philip Volpe was the command surgeon during the Battle of Mogadishu and briefed the medics’ story May 10 in the base theater on Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
Volpe explained that a large specialized joint medical team was deployed in support of combat operations to provide medical care in the event of high casualties. Photographs of the local area, hospital and airfield staging area were shown, and he detailed how medics outfitted the hospital with necessary trauma equipment once they arrived on site. The first patient treated was an aviator, a critical member of the planning team, who suffered from a ruptured appendicitis during the 10-hour flight.
Volpe went on to depict the different types of injuries which were treated and how one, in particular, ended up changing his life -- it was the motivation for him to remain in the military, rather than retire.
“A former patient of mine had a severe injury, and had to be placed in the expectant category,” said Volpe. “As I continued to check on him, he told me there was nothing that could be done for him and to take care of and focus on his troops. I think about him every day.”
When medics were not working, Volpe described, they concentrated on force protection. This included filling sandbags, which shielded against sniper fire and provided a deterrent against trucks which may be driven through the compound buildings.
Multiple improvements in combat medical practice were learned and implemented after the Battle of Mogadishu. Air transport now includes nursing staff trained in critical care, body armor was enhanced to protect against rifle fire, the design of tourniquets and helmets improved, sleep discipline is now a priority and each provider has a standard "go bag" with vital trauma gear.
Prior to Mogadishu, emergency medical care consisted of focusing on opening the patient’s airway, breathing and then circulation. The focus is now on restoring circulation first, followed by airway, breathing and circulation.
With a final poignant photograph, Volpe spoke with the audience of a memorial service held after the battle, which aimed to provide closure for the involved service members so they could learn of the outcome of those injured and say goodbye to the fallen.