Implications of Humanitarian Orthopaedic Surgery in a Combat Zone: Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom Experience


The primary mission of deployed military orthopaedic surgeons in a combat zone is to treat musculoskeletal battlefield trauma and associated wartime injuries. The role of humanitarian surgical care during combat operations has not been defined. An anonymous online survey was sent to databases containing all U.S. military active-duty orthopaedic surgeons as well as to members of the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons. Inclusion criteria for the study were defined as at least one deployment to Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom, OIF) or Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom, OEF). Three hundred fifty-six invitations were sent with 107 orthopaedic surgeons completing the survey. Respondents reported approximately 3,000 humanitarian surgeries performed in the combat zone, with 70% to 80% involving chronic deformity and nonunion surgeries. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents believed that humanitarian surgery was a key component of the mission, improved skills (73%), benefited population (76%), and improved security (61%). A significant amount of humanitarian surgery in the combat zone has been performed in OEF/OIF.

Key words: combat orthopaedic surgery, Global War on Terror, humanitarian surgery, military surgery

R. Judd Robins, MD; C. Rees Porta