A planned training exercise at Fort Carson has drawn fire from animal welfare groups because it involves soldiers injuring an undisclosed number of goats.
Later this month, medics from the 10th Special Forces Group will learn battlefield medical techniques at the post by treating the goats, which will be sedated and then injured to simulate combat wounds, the Army confirmed Tuesday.
The Army is unapologetic about the nature of the training, saying the goats will be sacrificed to save the lives of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s very important training,” said Ben Abel, a spokesman for Army Special Forces Command in Fort Bragg, N.C., which is responsible for the training exercise at Fort Carson.
That’s not good enough for the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States, which last week sent a letter of protest to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, calling on him to spare the Fort Carson goats.
“We wouldn’t be much of a Humane Society if we didn’t oppose the shooting of goats for training purposes,” said Martin Stephens, the organization’s vice president for animal research issues.
Stephens said his organization was tipped off to the upcoming training by an informant at the post.
The informant said plans call for pushing at least one goat off a cliff, Stephens said.
Abel declined to provide details of how the goats will be injured.
The Army and animal welfare advocates have been at odds since the 1970s over similar training exercises.
At bases around the country, goats are used to simulate wounded soldiers so medics can hone skills before heading to war.
Medics and doctors have trained using animals throughout Army history.
“The animals are put under general anesthesia, and they are wounded so that our medics can train in a realistic scenario that allows them to get hands-on experiences with live tissue,” Abel said.
Abel said the training complies with federal animal cruelty laws.
After the animals are treated by Army medics, they are killed and cremated.
The Army has made concessions in the past, Stephens said, discontinuing similar training using dogs and switching to goats.
Abel characterized the number of goats that will be wounded and eventually killed at Fort Carson this month as “a small amount,” but he wouldn’t provide a number.
The goat-based training augments a variety of schooling given to Special Forces medics.
The medics also spend time at trauma care hospitals in major cities nationwide to gain experience that they can use on the battlefield, Abel said.
Stephens, a biologist, said there are better ways to learn battlefield medicine.
He said the goats could be spared if the Army went hightech, using electronic simulations to replace the animal training.
“There clearly has to be a better way,” Stephens said.
Abel said the goats save human lives.
“If medics didn’t get this training, their first interaction with serious wounds would be on the battlefield,” he said.
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