Brandon Lingle's work has appeared in various publications including The American Scholar, Guernica, The Normal School, The North American Review, and New York Times At War. He edits nonfiction for War, Literature, and the Arts. Views are his own. "Tourniquet" was a notable in The Best American Essays 2016.
Lingle's nonfiction, “Tourniquet,” was originally published in The Southeast Review Volume 33.2.
The Iraqi boy beside me
reaches down to slide his fingertip in Retro Colonial Blue,
an interior latex, before writing
T, for Tourniquet, on my forehead.
—Brian Turner, “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center”
Pre-deployment training, Camp Bullis, Texas:
During the block on combat first aid, or Care Under Fire, our instructor pulled out a new tourniquet—a candy-bar shape vacuum- sealed in clear plastic—and called for a volunteer. The instructor handed our classmate the package and yelled, “BOOM! Your right arm’s blown off! Get the tourniquet on! You’re bleeding out.” The simulated casualty, a righty, wrestled the wrapped tourniquet, bit and pulled at the plastic with his left hand. The instructor counted time with a Southern twang, “ten, eleven, twelve seconds.” Now, the student—a flat-topped NCO—bit at the tourniquet and pulled at the Velcro. “Twenty, twenty-one seconds, twenty-two, twenty-three.” He balanced the strap on his right biceps, reached under his arm to grab the end, but it fell. “Thirty-eight, thirty- nine, forty.” He tried again, the strap dropped again. Along with sixty others, I watch as the man struggled against the black strap in a pretend battle for his life. He frowned, his face reddened, sweat clung just below the hairline on his crinkled forehead. The instructor slapped the desk, said, “Stop, you’re dead.” He continued, “Learn this here. Learn this now, dammit. Keep your tourniquets ready. I know the supply guys tell you not to open your first aid kits unless you need ’em, but I’m telling you different. When you need ’em it’s too late.”
Despite all the training and preparation, the mind runs wild in the days before deployment. I always think of the different ways my commander could explain my death to my wife and children. No matter the circumstance that story will always positively portray the fallen. Siegfried Sassoon wrote in “The Hero” that an officer told a dead soldier’s mother “some gallant lies / That would nourish all her days no doubt.” I didn’t want anyone to be forced to concoct a story about me. I paid attention in training because my life depended on it, and I knew that all the training and equipment in the world couldn’t stop a bomb or bullet meant for me.
This is a single use product. The use of any tourniquet is A LAST RESORT and should only be employed when bleeding cannot be stopped and the situation is life threatening.
Instructions for Use: Two-handed Application
Apply tourniquet proximal to the bleeding site. Route the band around the limb and pass the tip through inside slit of the buckle. Pull the band tight.
Pass the tip through the outside slit of the buckle. The friction buckle will lock the band in place.
Pull the band very tight and securely fasten the band back on itself.
Twist the rod until bright red bleeding has stopped and the distal pulse is eliminated.
Place the rod inside the clip, locking it in place. Check for bleeding and distal pulse. If bleeding is not controlled, consider additional tightening or applying a second tourniquet proximal side by side to the first and reassess.
Secure the rod inside the clip with the strap. Prepare the patient for transport and reassess. Record the time of application.
In ’04, before the Battle of Fallujah, Marines wore tourniquets wrapped loosely around their biceps and thighs as they rolled into battle. That way, when an RPG took an arm or suicide bomber stole a leg, the Marine was ready. Tighten, twist, secure—mere seconds meant the difference between bleeding out and survival under the bright Iraqi sun. I wonder what it was like to willingly walk into a fight, ready to surrender a limb. In many ways all of us had already placed that bet when we set foot in our Mideast warzones.
I’ve searched for images of soldiers sporting pre-positioned tourniquets. More often than not, I find images of tourniquets strapped or rubber-banded to body armor. In 2011, during an interview with former Army surgeon Dr. Ron Glasser, National Public Radio reported “Marines, without anyone ordering them to do so, have begun heading out on foot patrols with the tourniquets already loosely strapped around their thighs, so they can be tightened quickly if a foot or a leg is blown off.” And, “Officers don’t like it. They view it as a kind of defeatism on the part of the troops.” He continued: “But the Marines don’t care. They basically say, ‘The hell with it. We’re going to wear it anyway. If our legs get blown off, at least we’ll survive.’” And, in ’09 the Wall Street Journal published a photo of Marines from Lima Company wearing tourniquets loosely on their ankles in Zad, Afghanistan. I know those tourniquets, I’ve seen their black straps sandwiched between ammunition and holsters or body armor and unit patches of skulls and Latin phrases.