The University of Minnesota has won an $11 million grant from the Department of Defense to improve the training of combat medics.

As part of the three-year project, researchers plan to "simulate the sights, sounds and smells of the battlefield" to study how medical personnel respond, according to Dr. Robert Sweet, the lead researcher. "We want them to feel like it's real, so that they don't freeze up the first time they have to perform these skills in combat."

Sweet, who directs simulation programs at the U's medical school, will lead a consortium of military and civilian researchers across the country to study current training methods and explore ways to improve them, according to a university press release. The grant was announced Wednesday.

Sweet said the project would focus on preparing medics for "some of the most critical injuries and trauma routinely seen on the battlefield," including massive bleeding.

Medics "do a very, very good job," he said, but "there have been some lives lost that potentially could have been saved."

There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and about 44,500 in Iraq.

One of the goals, Sweet said, is to use simulators -- high-tech mannequins -- instead of live animals in medic training. "We're leaders in simulation," he said of the university, which uses patient simulators to train medical students and faculty. "That's why we were chosen."

At the same time, he said, the military needs a better way to ensure that medics have mastered the necessary skills.

"It's one thing to effectively and safely perform these skills in a controlled setting," Sweet said, "it's another to do it under the duress of battle."

The simulations will be designed, in part, to monitor the medics' "stress responses" in combat simulations.

Troy Reihsen, a combat medic and member of the Minnesota Army National Guard, will collaborate with Sweet on the university's simulation program.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384