Self-Defense Force Shooting Range: Inadequate Emergency Response, AEDs Missing, Survivors Suffer | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Self-Defense Force Shooting Range: Inadequate Emergency Response, AEDs Missing, Survivors Suffer

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The Hino basic shooting range in Gifu, Japan, which was the site of an incident last June. Now that training has resumed, how many safety measures will be taken to prevent a recurrence?

Emergency Treatment During the Shooting Incident that Injured or Killed Three People

In June of last year, an incident occurred at the Hino Basic Shooting Range in Gifu City, where three members were shot and injured by an automatic rifle. The Ground Self-Defense Force announced on May 22nd that shooting training would resume at the range.

The incident in June involved an 18-year-old Self-Defense Force trainee firing a rifle at three Self-Defense Force members at the Hino Basic Shooting Range in Gifu City. Two sergeants, aged 52 and 25 at the time and belonging to the Moriyama Garrison, were killed, while a third, aged 25 at the time, sustained serious injuries. In February, the Gifu District Public Prosecutors Office indicted former Self-Defense Force member “Naomori Watanabe” on charges of robbery and murder, and considering the severity of the incident, his real name was disclosed.

It was revealed through medical personnel’s testimonies that the surviving member, who suffered serious injuries, had his left leg amputated. A former Self-Defense Force medical officer disclosed:

“The third sergeant who suffered serious injuries in the shooting incident in Gifu City had his left leg amputated. This case, in which the leg was amputated from the left thigh, was shared among Self-Defense Force medical personnel, so it seems that it has not yet been publicly disclosed, but it has been identified.”

While the life of the sergeant was saved, it was revealed through investigations that there was a possibility of saving the lives of other members as well. The proper emergency medical equipment, which should have been prepared on site, was lacking.

Concerning the members who sustained serious injuries, one might wonder if the Self-Defense Force is considering providing lifelong support? If this information is accurate, prosthetic limbs would be necessary. Prosthetic limbs require frequent maintenance until they are suitable for the patient. Is it fair to burden the victims with such expenses? The problems with the Self-Defense Force’s emergency response system in the incident involving three deaths and injuries are evident. It is worth paying attention to what kind of support the government will provide in the future.

Let’s look back at the time of the incident.

On June 14th, nearby residents heard the desperate cries of the troops, “Look for an AED, you can find one at the convenience store!” On the pages of the Asahi Shimbun, there were photos showing bloodstains on benches and target boards used for transporting the injured from the shooting range to the ambulance. It was clear that there were no stretchers prepared at the shooting range, and adequate hemostasis was not performed.

If there were AEDs or sanitary materials for hemostasis at the shooting range, could their lives have been saved? The Self-Defense Force has hospitals, and there are members with medical licenses such as physicians and nurses. There are also sanitary troops trained in hemostasis and lifesaving, as well as ambulances. Why were there no stretchers or AEDs in an incident involving the Self-Defense Force, which should have all the necessary lifesaving equipment? The timeline from the occurrence of the incident to the deaths of the two sergeants is as follows,

– Around 9:08 AM: Incident occurs.

– Around 9:40 AM: Transportation to the hospital begins. Sergeant A (52 at the time) who was shot twice is unconscious. Sergeant B (25 at the time) is conscious.

– Around 10:45 AM: Confirmation of Sergeant A’s death shortly after arrival at the hospital.

– Around 11:23 AM: Confirmation of Sergeant B’s death.

It took almost two hours from the occurrence of the incident to arrival at the hospital. If Self-Defense Force ambulances had been prepared in advance, they could have been transported to the hospital much earlier. Furthermore, the Self-Defense Force has “1.5-ton ambulances” capable of transporting four stretchers or eight sitting patients at once and outdoor surgery systems. Although the “1.5-ton ambulance” is used in ranger training, it was not available at the Hino Basic Shooting Range where the incident occurred.

Moreover, if the outdoor surgery system had been effectively utilized during training, with doctors and nurses on board and ready, surgery could have been performed on the spot. Sergeant B, who died 32 minutes after the incident, was conscious for that duration, and there was a possibility of saving his life. Why did they not prepare emergency equipment and medical staff, even though they had them? Without being able to provide emergency treatment at any time, the Self-Defense Force members cannot train with peace of mind.

The gun fired was the “Type 89 5.56mm rifle”. It is said to have a muzzle velocity of 920m/s, corresponding to the rifle mentioned above. At the moment it hit the leg of the survivor, Mr. C, in the Gifu shooting incident, it is believed to have penetrated the femur.

Can we not deal with the risk of injury?

There is a risk of injury from gun malfunctions or ricocheting bullets at shooting ranges. It wouldn’t be strange to have medical corps members or doctors accompany the training, with medical supplies, tourniquets, and AEDs prepared on site. Trainee soldiers are not yet accustomed to firearms. Automatic rifles have significant recoil, and live fire exercises can cause extreme tension. Occasionally, troops become so nervous that they collapse. One reason for not having medical staff, doctors, or nurses accompany Self-Defense Force members during training is a shortage of personnel. Additionally, accidents during shooting training have been rare in recent years, leading to an extreme underestimation of risks.

A former Self-Defense Force member revealed,

“Self-Defense Force medical staff were deployed in various capacities to deal with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in many medical staff being overworked and a large number resigning. No matter how fulfilling the work is, the human body cannot withstand long hours without adequate rest. In the process of their work, Self-Defense Force medical staff had opportunities to interact with civilian doctors and hospital personnel. Knowing that they could receive higher wages and better treatment elsewhere than at Self-Defense Force hospitals was also a significant factor in encouraging resignations.”

Before the Great East Japan Earthquake, Self-Defense Force members had little work and no disaster deployments, so they frequently conducted training in hemorrhage control, AED use, and artificial respiration. Nurses from the Japanese Red Cross Society made plans and provided training in hemorrhage control and other treatments. Not only medical corps members but also general troops had high capabilities in dealing with injuries. With the increasing deployment for disaster relief and various requests from local governments, Self-Defense Force members are expected to undergo further medical training, but there is a shortage of personnel, making it difficult to allocate resources. Conversely, opportunities for medical training for general troops have decreased. The emergency response and first aid system against risks are not as well-equipped as the public might think.

The Self-Defense Force also possesses bulletproof vests. Applying this to the shooting incident in Gifu last June, if even ammunition distribution personnel or instructors had been wearing bulletproof vests, the casualties would likely have been significantly reduced. The vests have been provided to the Ukrainian government, so if there is room for supply to foreign countries, they could also be used to protect troops during training exercises.

Dismissing even the lives of Self-Defense Force members with remarks like “there’s no budget for it” or “it’s wasteful to use equipment” would only show a disregard for the most important thing, the lives of Self-Defense Force members, and no one would support such an organization. At the very least, I hope sufficient budget and personnel are allocated for matters related to the lives of Self-Defense Force members.

One-and-a-half-ton ambulances in every division.
Field surgical system. Consists of a surgical vehicle, a surgical preparation vehicle, a sterilization vehicle, and a medical supply vehicle
Field surgical vehicle. A vehicle that can perform surgeries in the field, accompanied by auxiliary vehicles such as a power supply vehicle.
  • Interview and text by Rie Ogasawara

    Rie Ogasawara is a national defense journalist. After graduating from Kansai Gaidai University, she worked as a freelance writer focusing on the Self-Defense Forces and security issues, and is the author of "Self-Defense Forces Personnel Buy Base Toilet Paper with Their Own Money" (Fusosha Shinsho), published in 2007. He was awarded the Seishi Sanshuji Award in the 15th "True Modern History" Essay Contest sponsored by the APA Foundation for the Rebuilding of Japan. Columnist for Sankei Shimbun's "Shimbun ni Kakaku! columnist for the Sankei Shimbun.

  • PHOTO Tomoyuki Hanai (1st), Shiki Terui (2nd), Rie Ogasawara (3rd-5th)

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