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How Does Military First Aid Work?

6 min read

Most often, it is not a doctor or a nurse that rescues a wounded soldier. It is self-aid and “buddy care”. Military first aid is an essential skill that soldiers must master to ensure they can provide immediate care to themselves or their comrades in the event of injury. 

The principles of military first aid are deeply embedded in the training and daily routines of military personnel, reflecting the harsh realities of combat where quick and effective medical intervention can mean the difference between life and death. 

For Saab, military first aid is part of our Deployable Health Care solutions. All equipment and material in the systems we provide are light, mobile and modular. From the Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK) that soldiers carry in their leg pocket through to field hospitals, every piece of material or equipment should be interchangeable and integrated. Our solutions are specifically designed for the rapid deployment and establishment of the function, requiring no specialist equipment and minimal personnel. 

The Fundamentals of Military First Aid

In the chaos of combat, a soldier suddenly goes down, clutching a heavily bleeding leg. The soldier immediately reaches for his Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK), a vital piece of equipment that all soldiers carry. Inside, he finds a tourniquet, which he quickly applies above the wound, tightening it until the bleeding stops. This is self-aid, the first line of defense in military first aid.

Nearby, a fellow soldier sees what has happened and rushes over. They check the injured soldier for additional wounds, finding none, and reassure him while applying a hemostatic dressing and additional pressure to further control the bleeding. This act of buddy care emphasizes the teamwork and mutual support that are essential in combat situations.


As the situation stabilizes momentarily, a combat medic arrives. With bullets whizzing overhead, the medic quickly assesses the soldier’s injuries, checking the effectiveness of the tourniquet and hemostatic dressing. The medic inserts a small tube into a vein to give the injured person blood and supply pain relief directly into the bloodstream, while also addressing potential shock and ensuring the soldier’s airway is clear. This medic aid represents the next level of care, bridging the gap between basic first aid and advanced medical treatment. A system for providing blood close to the point of injury (POI) increases the chance of survival and reduces complications during the subsequent rehabilitation process.

Training in Military First Aid

All this requires practice; training is the foundation of effective military first aid. Therefore, soldiers undergo rigorous programs that simulate the intense and unpredictable nature of combat. In controlled training exercises, soldiers practice applying tourniquets and hemostatic dressings on themselves, their comrades or realistic training dummies that mimic real-life injuries. However, there is a lack of medical training in the context of overall battle training, where the logistics of treating and bearing the wounded can be the hardest situation for a fighting unit.

Armed Forces Exercise AURORA 23 Photo: Bezav Mahmod -Swedish Armed Forces
Armed Forces Exercise AURORA 23 Photo: Bezav Mahmod -Swedish Armed Forces
Armed Forces Exercise AURORA 23 Photo: Bezav Mahmod -Swedish Armed Forces
Armed Forces Exercise AURORA 23 Photo: Bezav Mahmod -Swedish Armed Forces
Armed Forces Exercise AURORA 23 Photo: Bezav Mahmod -Swedish Armed Forces
Armed Forces Exercise AURORA 23 Photo: Bezav Mahmod -Swedish Armed Forces

In combat lifesaver courses, soldiers learn advanced hemorrhage control techniques, airway management and how to administer intravenous fluids. The MARCH algorithm – Massive hemorrhage, Airway, Respirations, Circulation, and Head injury/Hypothermia – is drilled into them, ensuring they know how to prioritize life-saving interventions.

Essential Components of Military First Aid Kits

The Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) is a critical component of a soldier’s gear, containing the essential tools that are needed to provide immediate medical care. The contents of an IFAK are carefully selected to address the most common and life-threatening injuries encountered in combat.

Tourniquets are a vital part of any IFAK. They are used to control severe bleeding from limb injuries, which is the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield. Soldiers are trained to apply tourniquets quickly and effectively, often in under a minute.

Solider practicing tourniquet application

Hemostatic dressings and pressure bandages are used to control bleeding from wounds that cannot be managed with a tourniquet, such as junctional bleedings or injuries to the neck. Hemostatic agents form a clot on their own or help the blood to clot more quickly, while pressure bandages apply direct pressure to the wound, helping to stop the bleeding and keeping the hemostatic agent fixed.

Chest seals are used to treat penetrating chest injuries, such as those caused by gunshots or shrapnel. These ventilated seals prevent air from entering the chest cavity, reducing the risk of tension pneumothorax, a life-threatening condition where air trapped in the chest compresses the lungs and heart.

Burn dressings are included to treat burns occurring due to explosions or fire. These dressings provide cooling and protection to the burn area, helping to reduce pain and prevent infection.

The Role of Combat Medics

Combat medics are the cornerstones of military first aid, providing advanced medical care in the most challenging conditions. They are trained to perform a wide range of medical procedures, from basic first aid to advanced trauma care. Their training includes skills such as starting intravenous lines, administering blood and medications, performing surgical airway procedures and managing complex wounds.

Medics carry a more comprehensive medical kit than the standard IFAK, including advanced airway management tools, intravenous fluids and a broader range of medications. They are trained to operate under fire, often providing care while bullets are flying and explosions are occurring around them.

The role of the combat medic extends beyond treating physical injuries. They also provide psychological support to injured soldiers, helping to keep them calm and focused during the chaotic moments following an injury. 

Advanced Military First Aid Techniques 

Military first aid techniques are continually evolving, driven by advances in medical science and technology. One such advancement is the use of CELOX rapid, which is a specific development of chitosan, a sugar that comes from the outer skeleton of shellfish. Chitosan forms a clot on its own and stop the bleeding even on hypothermic and patients who has been bleeding for some time and have a dysfunctional clotting cascade. Another innovation is the use of pelvic binders to stabilize pelvic fractures, which can be life-threatening due to the risk of severe internal bleeding.


The implementation of telemedicine in combat zones has also revolutionized military first aid. Medics can now use portable communication devices to consult with medical specialists who are not physically present. This allows for real-time guidance and support, improving the quality of care provided on the battlefield.

Research today focuses on administration of blood closer to the point of injury (POI) and prevention of hypothermia with new inventions for active re-warming. MEQU units are individual, lightweight units used for blood and fluid warming. Tried and tested in combat, these systems are also used in pre-hospital civilian settings. The use of whole blood close to the POI increases the chance of survival on the battlefield. 

There has also been intense research into safe transport and the extraction of wounded soldiers by drones and remote-controlled vehicles. The new threats to medical personnel increase the need for thermal camouflage for individuals as well as vehicles.


Deployable Healthcare Solutions

Saab’s Deployable Healthcare Solutions (DHC) are cost effective, flexible and highly deployable. Adapted to fit the requirements of any mission, our solutions are suitable for a range of applications. The units are modular and fully interoperable with Nordic and NATO forces.

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