ORCHARD COMBAT TRAINING CENTER, Idaho A non-descript trailer at the Orchard Combat Training Center with the word ‘moulage’ taped to the door hardly stands out from the other buildings spread throughout the expansive training area in Idaho.
But walking inside is like walking straight onto the set of a Hollywood horror film. Severed limbs, bloody clothing, burned skin and globs of blood are strewn throughout the small trailer, but after closer inspection, it’s clear the madness is mostly the product of make-up, latex and silicon.
Moulage, a French word for applying fake wounds for training purposes, is more of an art form for the talented group of individuals that call this building their office. Using their unique artistic skills and a bit of creative magic, they bring the gruesome realities of war to life in order to help save lives on the battlefield.
“We create simulated battlefield wounds and injuries so the Soldiers out here can get better training,” said Jeff A. Klassy, a moulage technician with WESTefx, a special effects company out of California. “Instead of using a card saying what the wound is or using their imagination, this gives Soldiers something to work with hands on and adds that shock value that a real wound would.”
“It’s very similar to what they do in Hollywood. We draw a lot of our inspiration off of pictures we find of similar moulage,” he said.
Klassy, a bearded artist with 14 rotations at military training centers in the U.S. under his belt, said he has worked in traditional mediums such as oils and acrylics but he really enjoys the challenge of working with this more gruesome art form.
“It’s actually inspiring to do this in a sense because if I actually saw this stuff in real life I don’t know how I would react,” he said. “And I love working with Soldiers because I feel most of them are really down to earth and they are usually pretty surprised when they come in here.”
Surprised was a good way to describe a group of National Guard Soldiers with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team who showed up to the moulage trailer for make-up at 2 a.m. Aug. 15 in preparation for a mass-casualty exercise.
Spc. Anne L. Holley, an automated logistical specialist and one of the Soldiers receiving the early morning wounds, said she volunteered for the experience, but she didn’t except that much detail to go into the wounds.
“I was thinking just a splash of fake blood and some ripped clothes,” said Holley.” I did not think it was going to be this cool and I’m pretty impressed with how realistic it is. I think for training purposes this is excellent, and it goes above and beyond what I’ve seen at other training events.”
Holley said her unit, which was in the midst of a month-long training exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center, had been conducting a lot of patrol missions and the mass casualty event was going to be a good way to break-up their routine.
“Sometimes you get complacent when nothing exciting happens for a while,” she said. “I think my unit is going to be pretty surprised when they see us and have to treat our wounds. This is going to be a good opportunity for them to see how they react under pressure.”
Brianna M. Zitlow, the head of the moulage department for WESTefx, said realism is a big part of what makes moulage so challenging and also so rewarding for training exercises.
“We learn every single time we do a wound, what works and what doesn’t work,” said Zitlow, a former tattoo shop owner who jokingly described herself as the ‘moulage master.’
“Some people might think ‘oh it’s blood, you just put it on there,’ but I think with the artists eye you can see things, different tones, that other people might not. And that’s important when your talking about training that can potentially save lives,” she added.
Klassy said that the artists also receive a lot of feedback from Soldiers.
“Soldiers have no problem telling us their opinions – I love that,” he said. “For me, I don’t know what it’s like to be in war ... so it’s good to get that feedback if something is a little over the top, or if it’s not realistic enough.”
“One of the common things we see from Soldiers who have never had moulage applied is they don’t want to get a lot done at first, but as we get started and they see what we can do they start asking for more and more and they really get into it,” said Zitlow. “I really think it enhances the training value when you can actually see the wound.”