When the Army shipped me overseas, all I got was a bunch of vaccines for whatever bugs they thought I might encounter over there:
Before they leave for Iraq, thousands of troops with the 101st Airborne Division line up at laptop computers to take a test: basic math, matching numbers and symbols, and identifying patterns. They press a button quickly to measure response time.
It's all part of a fledgling Army program that records how soldiers' brains work when healthy, giving doctors baseline data to help diagnose and treat the soldiers if they suffer a traumatic brain injury — the signature injury of the Iraq war.
"This allows the Army to be much more proactive," said Lt. Col. Mark McGrail, division surgeon for the 101st. "We don't want to wait until the soldier is getting out of the Army to say, 'But I've had these symptoms.'"
Sounds ghoulishly horrifying, I know, but such research will help many more people than just the ones we sent to war. It is a perverse part of the human experience that we learn so much from those we send into harm's way. In the Civil War, we lost more Americans than in any other conflict, but medicine, because of the efforts of heroically dedicated doctors and surgeons, took a quantuum leap to the modern era.