As long as there have been state doctors, soldiers have given those doctors a perfect test group for new drugs, new surgical procedures, new life-saving techniques. Sometimes big things, sometimes small. On May 11, I broke three of the seven vertebra in my neck. The surgeon who replaced my C-7 vertebra with a bone from a cadaver recently returned from Baghdad. I am not dead or paraplegic because he has had a lot of recent practice in the kind of surgery I needed.
At drill this coming weekend I get a flu shot. Actually I am one of four men in my unit to get a flu shot. The rest get their flu vaccine by inhalation. This new technique promises to offer better protection, but needs testing. Soldiers are a great test group—young, in good shape, and well fed. And they do what they are told, so they all take the new vaccine and give researchers a great set of data points. So why do four of us get shots? We are in shape and well fed, but we are also over 50. In the Army more than 80% of the troops are under 25. The over-50 guys are so rare, leaving us out gives them a much better sample than having to deal with the 99th percentile (by age) soldiers.