What are Army combat medics' main duties?

Army combat medics have to be prepared to administer to patients on the battlefield. Here, a medic practices applying a tourniquet to a soldier at Fort Hood in Texas.
Army combat medics have to be prepared to administer to patients on the battlefield. Here, a medic practices applying a tourniquet to a soldier at Fort Hood in Texas.
Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army

You've probably heard the term "medic" on TV or at the movies: Something terrible happens on a battlefield, and as the smoke begins to clear and the troops retaliate, you hear soldiers calling "Medic!" while standing over the wounded. But what is an Army medic, and what does he or she do? You might assume that the "medic" in "army medic" is simply shorthand for a doctor or nurse -- part of the medical staff -- but medic is actually an official job within the U.S. Army with a Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) listing. A medic is not a nurse or a physician, but a health care specialist trained to give basic medical treatment and take care of soldiers in emergency situations.

Napoleon Bonaparte created the first official field medical team back in 1809 in response to pressure from his army's chief surgeon. More than 200 years later, field medics are an integral part of almost any platoon that's likely to see combat. A combat medic in the U.S. Army is designated MOS 68W and undergoes 25 weeks of training -- 9 weeks in basic training plus 16 weeks of specialized training. The curriculum includes basic Emergency Medical Treatment (EMT) training, which is similar to training for a medical assistant or physician's assistant.

Training to be an Army medic goes beyond just basic medical training, though. Since these medical personnel are going to be working in high stress situations, combat medics need to show that they can perform their duties in the heat of battle. Before completing the 68W specialization, they go through extensive field training where they practice performing their duties in simulated combat situations.

So when all of this training is done, what's it really like to be an Army medic? What are the main duties of a medic who's providing medical care for soldiers in the field? Read on to learn more.

Duties of an Army Medic

Life for an Army medic is just as hard as for any other soldier in the field. They work long days, and when they're not working they're often on call. These medical specialists are doing more than just performing basic medical care, and they're often doing so under fire. The Geneva Convention protects combat medics as long as they don't engage the enemy in combat, but that doesn't mean medics aren't in danger. Not every army that the United States engages has signed on to the Geneva Convention, so medics are often as much at risk as any other soldier, and they even carry weapons to defend themselves.

Since medics are the first line of medical assistance during combat, their main duties are focused on emergency treatment in the field, including the following:

  • Prepping wounded soldiers for triage and evacuation
  • Administering IVs and taking vital signs
  • Dressing and sterilizing wounds

While that might seem like a short list, it encompasses a wide range of skills that save lives on the battlefield. While soldiers are fighting, combat medics are dressing gunshot and stab wounds, applying tourniquets and providing basic medical care for injured troops. Medics administer CPR to resuscitate unconscious soldiers, including giving mouth-to-mouth and performing chest compressions.

Medics can also assist Army doctors in the hospital or in the field, giving shots and medicine, prepping blood samples for the lab, taking vital signs and managing health records.

It's not ideal to treat soldiers out on the battlefield, so one of the medic's main duties is getting wounded soldiers to safety where they can receive proper treatment. In order to move the wounded quickly and efficiently, medics are also responsible for maintaining medical vehicles in the field. As in any emergency medical situation, early treatment can make a huge difference. Combat medics need to make sure their trucks and ambulances are reliable so they can evacuate the wounded safely.

Whether they're assisting Army doctors in a hospital setting or performing emergency medical treatment in the field, combat medics are highly respected in the Army because they're out there on the battlefield saving lives.

For more information on life and jobs in the Army, check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • American Heart Association. "Adult Basic Life Support." Circulation. 2005.
  • International Committee of the Red Cross. "Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field." Aug. 12, 1949. (March 31, 2011)http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/FULL/365?OpenDocument
  • Schom, Alan. "Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life." Harper Collins. 1998.
  • Schutz, Pfc. Samantha. "Face of Defense: Combat Medic Places Mission First." American Forces Press Service. Jan. 2, 2008. (March 31, 2011)http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=48556
  • U.S. Army. "Careers & Jobs: Health Care Specialist." (March 24, 2011)http://www.goArmy.com/careers-and-jobs/browse-career-and-job-categories/medical-and-emergency/health-care-specialist.html
  • U.S. Army Medical Department. "68W FieldCraft." (March 31, 2011)http://www.cs.amedd.army.mil/68w/DCMT/68W_Fieldcraft.htm
  • U.S. Army Medical Department. "Accreditation." (March 31, 2011)http://www.cs.amedd.army.mil/68w/USArmyEMS/Accrediation.htm
  • U.S. Army Medical Department. "Curriculum." (March 31, 2011)http://www.cs.amedd.army.mil/68w/DCMT/Curriculum.htm