Angels of the Battlefield

Army physicians, surgeons, nurses and other medical personnel often work under dangerous conditions in combat support hospitals located either at centralized bases attached to air fields, or at smaller bases closer to the front lines.

But the combat medic works directly on the front lines, and no Army unit goes into battle without one. In short, medics are right in the thick of things.

Because they're often in harm's way, combat medics generally carry the same armaments as other members of their unit, often the M-4 carbine or the M-16. (Army chaplains are the only MOS in a war zone that don't carry any weapons at all, though their assistants do.) If combat medics proactively engage in a battle, they lose the protected status afforded them under the Geneva Code. If the unit is attacked, the Geneva Code allows medics to fire in self-defense to protect themselves as well as any wounded in their care. After securing their own safety, medics must quickly shift gears and utilize the lessons of their specialized training as they locate wounded soldiers, treat them and prepare them for transport.

Once wounded soldiers have been initially treated and stabilized, the medic informs leadership of the number of wounded and the severity of the injuries. Today, the vast majority of wounded warriors are evacuated by helicopter and the rest by armored Stryker ambulance. Combat medics brief the medic traveling with the helicopter or ambulance and help load up the injured soldier. From the battlefield, the soldier will be taken to a forward surgical team at the nearest combat-support hospital, where doctors, surgeons and a whole host of health care professionals will treat their injuries to stabilize them further.

From this field hospital, the wounded eventually make it to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany -- the largest military hospital outside the U.S. -- before returning back to the U.S. for further treatment. For the wounded soldier, the medics clearly deserve their nickname "The Angels of the Battlefield." For the 68 Whiskey, it's a job well done.

Other medical specialists frequently operate behind -- but near enough -- the front lines. For instance, military dentists are located at field hospitals to assist with emergency dental procedures necessitated by facial trauma. These dentists and other medical specialists often operate in unfriendly territory susceptible to mortar fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other wartime hazards. For many enlistees, the military's medical and dental services provide for their first or most thorough exams. During WWII, Army dentists saw 94,000 patients a day [source: Life].

Whether a health care specialist operates on the front lines depends largely upon his or her MOS, and though treating wounded soldiers while dodging enemy fire really pushes medics to their limits, the military's medical personnel works tirelessly to save the lives of our men and women in uniform.

Want to know more about Army medics and doctors? Check out the links on the next page.