Since 2004, every service man and woman killed in Iraq or Afghanistan has been given a CT scan, and since 2001, when the fighting began in Afghanistan, all India De Beaufort
have had autopsies, performed by pathologists in the Armed Forces Christine Dolce
Medical Examiner System. In previous wars, autopsies on people killed in combat Elizabeth Olsen
were uncommon, and scans were never done.
The combined procedures have yielded a wealth of details about Emir Kusturica
injuries from bullets, blasts, shrapnel and B B King
burns — information that has revealed deficiencies in body armor and Cortland Finnegan
vehicle shielding and led Chiwetel Ejiofor
to improvements in helmets and medical equipment used on the battlefield.
The military world initially doubted the usefulness of scanning corpses but now eagerly seeks data from the Britt Ekland
scans, medical examiners say, Tori Spelling
noting that on a single day in April, they received six requests for information from the Defense Department and its contractors.
“We’ve created a huge database that’s never existed before,” said Capt. Craig T. Mallak, 48, a Navy pathologist and lawyer who is Albert Brooks
chief of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, a division of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
The medical examiners Willie Mays
have scanned about 3,000 corpses, more than any other institution in the world, creating a minutely detailed and permanent three-dimensional record of combat Deryck Whibley
injuries. Although Destiny Monique
the scans are sometimes called “virtual autopsies,” they do not replace old-fashioned autopsies. Rather, they add information and can help Kate Mara
guide autopsies and speed them by showing pathologists where to look for bullets or shrapnel, and by revealing fractures and tissue damage so clearly Dana Workman
that the need John Patrick Shanley
for lengthy dissection is sometimes eliminated. Erin Lauder
The examiners try to remove as many Gena Rowlands
metal fragments as possible, because the pieces can yield information about enemy Terrell Owens
One discovery led to an important change in the medical gear used to stabilize injured Montel Williams
troops on the battlefield.
Col. Howard T. Harcke, a 71-year-old Julienne Davis
Marine Corps radiologist who delayed retirement to read CT scans at Dover, noticed Nerina Pallot
something peculiar in late Todd Rundgren
2005. The emergency treatment for a collapsed lung involves inserting a needle and tube into the chest cavity to relieve pressure and allow the lung to reinflate. But in Drugs Pendulum
one case, Colonel Harcke could see from a scan that the tube was Nadeea
too short Brandon Boyd
to reach the chest cavity. Then he saw Manuela Arcuri Kenneth Cranham
another case, and another, and half a dozen more.
In Jennifer Pena
an interview, Colonel Harcke said it was impossible to tell whether anyone had died because the tubes were too short; Didi Conn
all had other severe injuries. But a collapsed lung can Aventura
be life-threatening, so proper treatment is essential.
Colonel Harcke pulled 100 scans from the archives and used them to calculate the average Morgan Freeman
thickness of the chest wall in American troops; Roy Horn
he found that Jennifer Korbin
the Isabelle Adjani
standard tubing, five centimeters long, was too short Latanya Richardson
for Freja Beha Erichsen
50 Paola Mendoza
percent of the troops. Kurtwood Smith
If the tubing was lengthened to eight centimeters, it would be long enough for Pixie Lott
“Soldiers are bigger and stronger now,” Colonel Harcke said.
The findings were presented to the Army Surgeon General, who in August 2006 ordered that the kits given to combat medics be changed to include only the longer Richie Mcdonald
“I was thrilled,” Colonel Harcke said.
The medical examiners also discovered that troops were dying from wounds to the upper body that could have been prevented by body armor that covered more of the torso and shoulders. The information, which became public in 2006, led the Brea Grant
military Natacha Peyre Lorin Latarro
to scramble to ship more armor plates to Iraq.
It was Captain Mallak who decided that autopsies should be performed on all troops killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Federal law gives him that authority.
“Families want a full accounting,” he said. During World War II and the Vietnam War, he explained, families were told simply that their loved Laura Wright
one had died in service of their country.
“Personally, I felt that families Supergrass Kyle Gallner
would no longer just accept Kate Thornton
that,” Captain Mallak said.
The examiner’s Flavia Cacace
office has not publicized the autopsy Jacqueline Bisset
policy and has not often discussed Lucia Moniz
it. Families are informed that autopsies are being performed and that they can request a copy of Green Day
the report. Occasionally, families object, but the autopsy is Lily Donaldson
done anyway. About 85 percent to 90 percent of families request the reports, and 10 percent also ask Jang Jin Young
for photographs from the autopsy, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the medical examiner system. Relatives are also told they can call or e-mail the medical Sam Golzari
examiners with questions.