BACKGROUND: Historically, penetrating injuries to the extremities account for up to 75% of wounds sustained during combat and 10% of deaths. Rapid vascular control and perfusion of injured extremities at forward deployed Echelon II surgical facilities is essential to limit loss of life and maximize limb preservation. We review our experience with the management of extremity vascular trauma and report the largest single Echelon II experience to date on temporary vascular shunting (TVS) for proximal extremity vascular injuries. METHODS: Data on combat trauma patients presenting to a US Navy Echelon II forward surgical facility in Iraq were prospectively recorded during a 7-month period. Patients with suspected vascular injuries underwent exploration in the operating room. After vessel control, thrombectomy and instillation of heparinized saline, vascular injuries in the proximal extremity were temporarily shunted in a standardized fashion. Vascular injuries in the distal extremity were routinely ligated. After shunting, patients were transported to an Echelon III facility in the Iraqi Theater and underwent vascular reconstruction. They were followed through transfer to the Continental United States or discharge into the civilian Iraqi medical system. Shunt patency, limb salvage, and survival data were obtained by retrospective review of electronic medical records. RESULTS: Six hundred ten combat trauma patients were treated from August 16, 2006 to February 25, 2007. Thirty-seven patients (6.1%) sustained 73 injuries to major extremity vascular structures. Twenty-three proximal vascular shunts were placed in 16 patients with mean Injury Severity Score of 25 (range, 17-43) and mean mangled extremity severity score (MESS) of 8 (range, 5-10). Twenty-two of 23 shunts (95.6%) were patent upon arrival to the Echelon III facility and underwent successful autologous vein reconstruction. All shunt patients survived their injuries with 100% early limb preservation as followed through their first 30 days of medical care or discharge into the local medical community. CONCLUSIONS: Complex combat injuries to proximal extremity vessels should be routinely shunted at forward-deployed Echelon II facilities as part of the resuscitative, damage control process.