HONOLULU -- The Army says it's critical to saving the lives of wounded soldiers. Animal-rights activists call the training cruel and outdated.
Despite opposition by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Army proceeded to shoot live pigs and treat their gunshot wounds in a medical trauma exercise Friday at Schofield Barracks for soldiers headed to Iraq.
Maj. Derrick Cheng, spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division, said the training was conducted as scheduled under a U.S. Department of Agriculture license and the careful supervision of veterinarians and a military Animal Care and Use Committee.
"It's to teach Army personnel how to manage critically injured patients within the first few hours of their injury," Cheng said.
The soldiers are learning emergency lifesaving skills needed on the battlefield when there are no medics, doctors or facility nearby, he said.
PETA, however, said there are more advanced and humane options available, including high-tech human simulators. In a letter, PETA urged the Army to end all use of animals, "as the overwhelming majority of North American medical schools have already done."
"Shooting and maiming pigs is [as] outdated as Civil War rifles," said Kathy Guillermo, director of PETA's Laboratory Investigations Department.
The Norfolk, Va.-based group demanded the exercise be halted after it was notified by a "distraught" soldier from the unit, who disclosed a plan to shoot the animals with M4 carbines and M16 rifles.
"There's absolutely no reason why they have to shoot live pigs," PETA spokeswoman Holly Beal said.
The bloody exercise, she said, is difficult for soldiers because they sometimes associate the animals with their own pets.
Cheng said the exercise is conducted in a controlled environment with the pigs anesthetized the entire time. He had "no doubt whatsoever" in the effectiveness of the instruction, which he called the best option available at the base.
"Those alternative methods just can't replicate what the troops are going to face when we use live-tissue training," he said. "What we're doing is unique to what the soldiers are going to actually experience."
Cheng didn't have details about the number of pigs, how they were acquired or the weapons involved in the training.
The soldiers being trained are with the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, which is deploying to Iraq this year.
"We understand [PETA[']s] concerns and point of view. At the same, the Army is committed to providing the soldiers with the best training possible," Cheng said.
PETA has instructed its 2 million members to inundate the Army with calls and e-mails.
"We are not going to let it drop," Guillermo said Friday. "We'll continue to press both Schofield and the Department of Defense for a ban on these trauma training exercises."